Grrr. Sack the board. Sack them all. This was a dreadfully disappointing game from an Irish perspective and a hugely satisfying one for Warren Gatland and Wales, who looked absolutely delighted at the final whistle.
Wales played with an intensity and purpose that Ireland showed only briefly all day. That purpose made a number of average Welsh players look better than their domestic form suggests. The Mole is convinced that man for man the Welsh team that took the field is not better than Ireland but Wales played Ireland off the park for most of this game. The final penalty that decided the game looked ludicrous at the time and replays suggest that the lunatics are indeed running the asylum but it ignores the fact that the better team on the day won and fully deserved it.
Wales were more physical than Ireland and played with a purpose to their game that Ireland lacked. They targeted Ireland’s wingers, running at Tommy Bowe and scoring two tries down his wing while kicking to Andrew Trimble who never looked comfortable dealing with the airborne ball. Wales put the ball wide off multiple phases, running at Ireland’s lightweight midfield who didn’t shirk tackles but lacked the kilos to halt Wales’ heavy artillery. Jamie Roberts didn’t look fit but still had an impact towards the end of the game while George North was simply phenomenal, bouncing Fergus McFadden while hardly breaking stride to set up JJV Davies, before scoring his own try to bring his team within a point.
The Welsh tackler, whoever it was, lay on the Irish side of the ball at every ruck and Wayne Barnes let them do it all day. In fairness, Ireland were no angels in this regard either and you must play the ref. Wales kicked deep off restarts and looked happy to keep Ireland in their own half. Ireland’s inability to string together quick phases meant that they were obliged to kick the ball away. The Welsh back three were well positioned at cut off any clever options, due to the fact that Ireland rarely managed to get on the front foot.
There was one period that Ireland took the upper hand and had the Welsh knocked back like skittles. Bradley Davies had been sinbinned for dumping Donncha Ryan and Ireland picked it or went one out and ran at the Welsh defence, making huge yardage in the build up to Tommy Bowe’s score. There was a Munster like ferocity in simply taking the game to the Welsh that had been missing up to that point. Then, having got the crowd on their side, and with Wales looking tired, Ireland kicked the ball out on the full before making an incredible decision to kick for goal from 53 metres after 73 minutes. The Mole was aghast at what seemed like a 10:90 decision to go for points at that stage. Boot the ball in the corner and maul the seven Welsh forwards into further tiredness, deprive them of the ball and run down the clock before tagging on a further 3 or 7 points to make the game safe. Never give a sucker an even break.
What had so aggrieved Bradley Davies was the temerity of Donncha Ryan to contest Welsh ruck ball. Ireland had, incredibly, allowed Wales to dictate the pace of the game by never counter rucking. This allowed Mike Phillips to get on the front foot and meant that Wales could set targets, running their big men against Ireland’s little men. Anybody who had watched last year’s two Bledisloe Cup games might recall that Australia let NZ have the ball in the first test and spread across the pitch. The result? A Dan Carter inspired master class in attacking rugby. In the second test the Australians contested every tackle area and pulled off an unlikely victory as NZ tried to play footie off slow ball in the wet. Mind you, NZ almost came back into it by playing one out physical rugby in the second half and denying Australia the ball. A bit like Ireland’s two minutes of purpose…
Ireland’s attack in the first half was almost embarrassing as a number of single runners were sent charging at the Welsh. There was no change of angles, there was no weight of numbers, there were few mismatches. There was Jamie Heaslip, who looked outstanding, and who broke the gain line to set up quick ball. From that, Ireland’s Leinster midfield showed good hands and set up Rory Best for a try that owed more to Joe Schmidt than Declan Kidney.
It may be that Ireland are targeting France but this was a poor performance from a very capable team. Three teams in the knockout rounds of the Heineken Cup suggests that Ireland has plenty of talented players. They are not doing themselves justice under the current coaching ticket. Kidney earned huge credit winning Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 60 years then topped it up when he needed a refill by turning over an Australian team missing three vital forwards (Robinson, Moore & Pocock). Dan Carter’s groin and Marc Lievremont’s nightmare meant that a World Cup was there to be contested and possibly won by a daring team. Now he presides over a Six Nations that offers no Triple Crown or Grand Slam, beaten by an injury ravaged Welsh team at home. The knives are out, Ireland need more than bland press conferences and passive defence.