Calm and composed Ireland look good going forward
Physical when needed, Joe Schmidt’s men take their toll on Wales
The first scrum arrived on one minute and 25 seconds in and with it the meeting of two nations. It fell, and, on the reset referee Wayne Barnes penalised the Irish with Wales getting their first breakthrough.
From the ensuing lineout on two minutes 45 seconds Welsh hooker Richard Hibbard hit Andrew Coombs near the front. The hot ball, off the top, found scrumhalf Mike Phillips who fired a monster. Flat and long to his very wide outhalf Rhys Priestland. Game on.
For the next 65 seconds Wales did the following: Priestland popped to the charging Jamie Roberts, which was two clean passes of the ball to break the gainline and earn them a second phase.
From that breakdown Philips passed a few short yards to Hibbard, standing as first receiver but rewinding back where the ball came from. He trucked into the Irish fringe defence for phase three. Philips repeated going the same way to Toby Faletau (phase four), Hibbard again (phase five), then the Welsh scrumhalf went open to Sam Warburton (phase six). Then Welsh forwards abandoned Philips as they trucked directly around the fringe with Gethin Jenkins (phase seven) and Faletau repeating same (phase eight).
Philips, either growing tired of this or conscious of the tactical chessboard options, rewound once more to eventually re-engage with his outhalf Priestland, who after all that Welsh walloping had run out of attackers. They had but one Welsh man left in attack and Priestland found monster winger George North who was cut down by Andrew Trimble miles behind the gainline (phase nine).
Maintaining possession Philips then found his loosedhead prop Jenkins who deftly popped outside to Dan Lydiate who was absolutely smashed and chopped by Paul O’Connell. That was phase 10 and 65 seconds of rugby that earned Ireland a massive penalty.
Wales came to batter and bruise Ireland into submission in a gainline encounter that was simple and designed to suck in Irish forwards (and backs) to ultimately create space for the big guns out wide.
Many aspects of Ireland’s play impacted on the Welsh gameplan. That first lineout above was one of them. Wales went to Coombs at the front with Faletau, Warburton and Lydiate stacked in that order at the tail. Brilliantly Chris Henry and Irish hooker Rory Best flew old school out ahead of them. At this level those yards stolen are crucia.
Roberts carried into the Irish outhalf channel which was by then occupied by Johnny Sexton ably supported by Best who was superb in the unfolding seconds and Henry had slipped outside into the open pillar position, to protect the next phase. In this simple tactic Warburton et al’s potency was neutralised.
Ireland brought a brutal physicality to their game also but accompanied it with a tactical awareness of how best to use it – just watch Andrew Trimble. For instance they changed their exit strategy abandoning the garryowen’s out of defence with both Conor Murray and Sexton electing for long-range clearances.
When the heat or phases built up Ireland defused it by going into the air or downtown. The kicking wasn’t always spot on in accuracy and execution but it was the right choice.
However the key difference between the sides was Ireland’s ability to neutralise the Welsh game plan. They achieved this through their massive defence and in particular with the style of Irish ball carrying which reduced the contest enormously. How Gordon D’Arcy hasn’t been killed I’ll never know but his dancing feet give us two things. Firstly it buys crucial time while his support gets into position and it also destabilises the Welsh style of chop down tackle that generates turnover steels.
Jamie Heaslip mimicked same as did nearly every Irish ball carrier. This is no coincidence and hence was a tactic employed by the Irish in a physically brutal and most mental of matches.
Fast forward to Jack McGrath’s first scrum on his fifth cap. By this stage second capper Marty Moore was in tight head and behind McGrath was starting blindside wing forward Peter O’Mahony now employed in the secondrow as both Paul O’Connell and Dan Tuohy had come and gone.
It was a Welsh put in and McGrath got a massive left handside drive totally unearthing Faletau at the base of the scrum affording Chris Henry a great chance to smash, which he did.
I know the score was in our favour but something very special happened at this time that sets this Irish team apart from all before them. The sight of Paul O’Connell departing the field would put fear into his team-mates and hope into the opposition. Tuohy arrived with no fanfare no histrionics and slotted in seamlessly. He then went off injured and yet no panic arrived. The bench were utilised as part of the 80 minutes and not tokenism at the death. This means that were O’Connell to depart in Twickenham the Irish squad would not panic.
That Tuohy was brought on tactically for O’Connell is a massive boost to his stature in the squad. In other words, the coach trusts me enough to replace the great Paul O’Connell. The above scrum had the most unusual set up but succeeded. This is massive for those players therein. Muscle has a memory and that scrum will provide huge memories for the battles that lie ahead which are great. But how excited must the entire management and squad be in facing them.
Enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever but the memory of this game will.