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Six Nations Talking Point: Ireland’s ‘Bomb Squad’ substitutes defuse Welsh threat

Andy Farrell’s use of his replacements was key in pulling clear in the final quarter at the Aviva

When Ireland went into half-time 17-0 ahead, it seemed then they were along the road to a straightforward win in their third match of the championship. Wales would not come back from that against a side most teams were struggling to beat. Warren Gatland’s selection had given away nine penalties in the first half as Ireland exerted pressure and although Ireland were far from on top form, they totally dominated territory as well as having two tries on the board from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe.

When Wales came out for the second half, the match had entirely changed in complexion. Gone was most of the play taking place in the Welsh red zone and instead Ireland players were going backwards in their own half, a penalty try and a yellow card for Tadhg Beirne just three minutes after the break illustrating the way the game momentum had swung in favour of Wales.

In the dire penalty count of the first 40 minutes, Wales had also problem-solved. After 54 minutes, their nine penalties conceded before the break had been equalled by Ireland, who in those early second-half minutes handed five penalties to Wales. The pressure and dominance had turned. Things were not working out for Ireland. The urgency had gone, the general back play was static, untidy and the players were in reverse in their own half with Wales sucking confidence from it as the minutes ticked away.

Irish coach Andy Farrell was having a serious look at what was unfolding and he acted. On 54 minutes hooker Rónan Keller, prop Oli Jager, lock James Ryan and backrow Ryan Baird came in just minutes after Jack Conan had joined the backrow.


Within minutes the freshness and personal changes had Ireland turning the match. It was a bold but necessary cull by Farrell, removing key players like Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Joe McCarthy and captain Peter O’Mahony as he saw a game Ireland had seemed to have won in the first 40 minutes turning towards one in which they seemed vulnerable.

The raft of substitutions changed everything and a take away for Farrell will be the strength that he has on the Irish bench. While Wales still gamely ran the ball, the fear that the match would totally turn around had been halted. The two late tries from Ciarán Frawley and Beirne, showed how judicious use of bench players was able to turn the tempo, the energy, the power and most importantly the direction of the match.