Anscombe’s Hail Mary keeps Ireland’s Grand Slam dream alive

Joe Schmidt’s side came a rare moment of Welsh profligacy away from a galling defeat

Jacob Stockdale runs in to score Ireland’s crucial fifth try against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Jacob Stockdale runs in to score Ireland’s crucial fifth try against Wales. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Even the greatest sporting teams require their fair share luck in order to turn talent into silverware, and Ireland’s Grand Slam chasers will prove no different should they reach the holy grail on March 17th.

So far, all is going swimmingly for Joe Schmidt’s side. They are three wins from three, and sitting five points clear at the top of the Six Nations table.

Improbably, they could even wrap up the Championship before the tournament’s final round, after their win over Wales on Saturday was followed by Scotland the Brave stunning England at Murrayfield.

However, the freewheeling Scots now head to Dublin on March 10th harbouring Championship ambitions of their own - and their dashing style of rugby is liable to test Ireland’s one obvious weakness.

Indeed, everything might look great on paper, but Ireland have conceded six tries in their last two fixtures against Italy and Wales - a statistic which hardly screams of a miserly defence.

Schmidt’s side have a tendency to get too narrow in defence, and as a result teams willing to use the pitch - as Scotland love to do - tend to get joy down the outside.

This was in evidence as Warren Gatland’s side chased the game at the Aviva, and resulted in thrilling scores for both Aaron Shingler and Steff Evans.

And it very nearly cost Ireland the game.

In the final play of the match Wales were on the ball on the halfway line, desperately trying to engineer the break which would lead towards a match-winning score.

Ireland had looked comfortable but Evans’s 77th minute try had dragged the visitors back to within three points and at 30-27, nerves were beginning to fray.

Gareth Anscombe then threw a Hail Mary pass out wide - allowing Jacob Stockdale to intercept and cruise under the posts to give Ireland a 37-27 victory.

Stockdale’s try released the Aviva pressure-valve, but what was lost in the elation was just how close Ireland came to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

From a ruck near the left touchline, Gareth Davies moves the ball to Scott Williams who is acting as first receiver, and he passes to replacement hooker Elliot Dee in midfield.

Gareth Davies moves the ball to Scott Williams at first receiver.
Gareth Davies moves the ball to Scott Williams at first receiver.

Dee drops the ball back to playmaker Ansccombe, taking three Irish defenders - Jack McGrath, Dan Leavy and John Ryan - out of play in the process.

Replacement hooker Elliot Dee takes the ball from Williams before giving it to the deeper Anscombe.
Replacement hooker Elliot Dee takes the ball from Williams before giving it to the deeper Anscombe.

Anscombe has four red shirts outside him. One of them, Josh Navidi, runs a good decoy line to suck in the outstanding Chris Farrell.

That leaves Wales with a three on one - with Jacob Stockdale isolated against Liam Williams, Justin Tipuric and Aaron Shingler. That’s Wales’ most dangerous back, and their two quickest forwards.

If Anscombe moves to ball to Justin Tipuric, he has Aaron Shingler and Liam Williams outside him, and Wales have a three on one.
If Anscombe moves to ball to Justin Tipuric, he has Aaron Shingler and Liam Williams outside him, and Wales have a three on one.

With just Rob Kearney covering the back field, it is a golden chance for Wales to score, and the type they have been taking throughout the Championship.

However, rather than moving the ball through the hands Anscombe opts to float a big ball out wide, presenting Stockdale with the easiest of opportunities to seal the game.

Afterwards, Gatland was left to rue that rare moment of profligacy from his side - who managed to score three tries despite being starved of the ball for long periods.

“If Stockdale doesn’t get the intercept, if we’d given the pass out the back - we potentially score there,” he said.

So thanks to one poor decision by Anscombe Ireland’s Grand Slam dream is still alive - the margins are that fine.

But afterall, even the best need a bit of luck.

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