Brilliant Ireland make Wales suffer at the Aviva
Twickenham Triple Crown attempt next up for Joe Schmidt’s side
It was victory was based on the earthier qualities, a homily to a simple game-plan based on territory, a good kick-chase, a dynamic lineout maul and discipline in defence. Ireland corralled Wales into tight spaces, shut them down out wide and competed ferociously at the breakdown.
Once again the Irish pack produced a monumental performance in the tight, particularly out of touch where the Welsh had no answers to the maul. The visitors found themselves hemmed in, their hosts inviting Warren Gatland’s side to try and extricate themselves by moving the ball wide. The Welsh couldn’t escape those shackles.
Peter O’Mahony had a wonderful game, particularly at the breakdown, where he forced penalties and turnovers with equal facility. Superbly supported by Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip - they dominated their counterparts in this facet of the game.
Ireland used the turnovers and penalties to kick in behind the Welsh wings or hug the touchline with Sexton’s spiralling line kicks. There were times when they overdid the kicking in the first 20 minutes - Conor Murray and Sexton didn’t look before putting boot to ball - but they had recalibrated by the time the first quarter was at an end.
Ireland’s forwards’ coach John Plumtree deserves massive credit for the work he’s done with the Irish lineout, maul and breakdown. These were the central tenets of the victory.
Gordon D’Arcy had a huge game in both attack and defence. He always made yardage no matter how slow the possession and his tackling was textbook. Ireland’s wings Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble were also excellent in beating the tackle and climbing high into the skies while Rob Kearney completely eclipsed Leigh Halfpenny in terms of positively influencing the game.
Wales tried to employ a kicking game but when they lost out there they opted to try and run over the top of Ireland. They couldn’t manage that either for the most part, and in the end they relied on individuals to try and break the first up Irish defence. Denied the quick ball, the Welsh couldn’t really make much headway.
The fact that their backrow was outplayed, their set-piece second best on the day and their kicking game less well directed meant that the only sporadically caused Ireland problems. Paul O’Connell led the team superbly for 60 minutes and indeed the impact off the bench guaranteed that Ireland were fresh right through the final whistle.
Ireland started with a tempo and purpose that indicated their mindset. They wanted to take the game to the visitors.
Dave Kearney appeared isolated in possession but his footwork and ability to duck the first tackle and roll away from his pursuers got over the gainline, giving his support a target. Wales were penalised for not rolling away in the ruck and Jonathan Sexton was unerring from 22 metres to give the home side a 3-0 lead.
Ireland looked to catch and drive from their first couple of lineouts and while they didn’t get much currency in terms of yardage from the first, they won a penalty when Dan Lydiate came in from the side at the second.
There was the odd fletch of tetchiness in the opening 10 minutes but in collision terms, Wales outside centre Scott Williams ramped up the ferocity with a huge tackle on Brian O’Driscoll. The latter’s pass was picked off but the visitors had already been penalised at the preceding ruck. O’Driscoll required two minutes of treatment but Williams, who had made the tackle, was taken off with a shoulder injury.
He was replaced by Liam Williams, who went onto the left wing with George North moving into the centre. Ireland elected to kick away a lot of ball but two thirds of it was poorly directed in that it wasn’t contestable and it gave Wales easy possession.
The cross-kick wasn’t effective initially and it was difficult to escape the notion that the home side would need to husband possession more judiciously.
While the game certainly didn’t lack physicality there was precious little subtlety in the main with an emphasis from both teams in minimising risk taking. Ireland in particular were content to put the ball in behind the Welsh wings and turn them round, something which Sexton managed with a couple of beautifully judged punts.
On 27 minutes O’Driscoll took a hard, straight line that that required two tacklers to stop him but he’d claimed several metres over the gain-line. When the ball was moved wide Trimble showed great feet to first cut back against the grain and then step past Alun Wyn Jones. He took play to within a five metres of the Welsh line.
Paul O’Connell cleared out the first Welsh defender but Murray didn’t realise that there was no other Irish player in support and in following suit allowed a Welsh player to simply step over and pick up possession. The visitors were not as fortunate five minutes later.
Toner won a lineout six metres out, and instead of a careful set of the maul, Ireland went for a more dynamic option, catching the Welsh defenders by surprise. Chris Henry snuggled in at the back and he was driven over for a well worked try, similar to the one that Jamie Heaslip scored last weekend.
It was the defining moment in the opening 40 minutes and it encapsulated the elements of Ireland’s performance that were strongest; the lineout and the maul. There was still time for Sexton to try and add to the two penalties he’d kicked earlier by taking on a monster attempt from six metres inside his own half. It landed short but a 13-0 cushion at half-time was a decent return.
Sexton’s third penalty after the restart nudged Ireland out to 16-0 but any thoughts that the momentum was heading in the one direction was quickly scuppered when the visitors won the restart and after a series of rucks, took play into the Irish 22 when Jamie Roberts broke the tackle of O’Driscoll.
However O’Mahony, as he had done on a couple of occasions in the first half, proved to be the immoveable object over the ball forcing Wales captain Sam Warburton to hang on to possession and concede the penalty.
The Welsh were enjoying more possession and they were not kicking it away at this point, looking to get their big ball carriers in the backline into space. Ireland’s tackling was excellent, exemplified by Gordon D’Arcy’s tenacity in midfield. Time and again he got Ireland going forward in possession from a static position and his chop tackling was superb.
Irish coach Joe Schmidt made two changes on 54 minutes introducing Dan Tuohy for O’Connell and Martin Moore for Ross. The 20/20 vision of hindsight would suggest that the home side might have waited for the scrum, which they were awarded to be over before the double change as Moore was penalised and it allowed Leigh Halfpenny to register Wales’
The home side responded in kind with four minutes, Sexton’s fourth penalty preserving a 16-point buffer on the scoreboard. It could have been even worse for Wales as seconds earlier Halfpenny had a clearance kick charged down by Rob Kearney inside his own 22 but Liam Williams was first to the loose ball in the in-goal area.
Ireland’s discipline let them down a little when they conceded a couple of penalties that took Wales from about eight metres from their own line to within millimetres of the Irish posts. The home side survived because Rhodri Jones was penalised for a double movement as he tried to burrow under the Irish cover.
The home side had another glorious opportunity on 70 minutes from a superbly crafted rolling maul off a lineout. They drove forward about 15 metres but with about six to go they splintered off and it eventually led to a turnover.
Welsh desperation saw them try to run from everywhere but Ireland’s tenacity at the breakdown, their organisation and communication in defence and an ability to get in over the ball meant that they didn’t look like being broken down.
Paddy Jackson’s late try - he had come on as a replacement for the outstanding Sexton - was a fitting reward. The cheap shot that Liam Williams put in on the Ulsterman after he grounded the ball led to some argy-bargy, the upshot of which was a yellow card for Phillips. He’d been a cranky enough presence throughout the game.
Jackson tagged on the conversion and Ireland might have added to the visitors misery when Isaac Boss smuggled possession from a turnover in the Irish 22, but the Welsh cover managed to scramble back and snuff out the opportunity when the scrumhalf’s inside pass went to ground about eight six metres from the Welsh line.
It was a victory founded on pragmatism and none the poorer for it. The aesthetics don’t matter; no room for pictures on the scoresheet.
7 mins: Sexton penalty, 3-0; 17: Sexton penalty, 6-0; 31: Henry try, Sexton conversion, 13-0. Half-time: 13-0. 45: Sexton penalty, 16-0; 55: Halfpenny penalty, 16-3; 59: Sexton penalty, 19-3; 78 mins: Jackson try, Jackson conversion, 26-3.
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O’Connell (capt); P O’Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip. Replacements: D Tuohy for O’Connell 54 mins; M Moore for Ross 54 mins; 60: F McFadden for Trimble 60 mins; T O’Donnell for Tuohy 63 mins; J McGrath for Healy 67 mins; S Cronin for R Best 72 mins; P Jackson for Sexton 74 mins; I Boss for Murray 78 mins.
Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, S Williams, J Roberts, G North; R Priestland, M Phillips; G Jenkins, R Hibbard, A Jones; A Wyn Jones, A Coombes; D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau. Replacements: L Williams for S Williams 16 mins; K Owens for Hibbard 60 mins; R Jones for A Jones 60 mins; P James for Jenkins 70 mins; J Ball for Coombes 70 mins; J Tipuric for Lydiate 70 mins.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Yellow card: Mike Phillips 78 mins.