Liam Toland: Draw a great achievement for depleted Ireland

Munster's CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell epitomised Ireland’s determination

Gerry Thornley and Liam Toland react to Ireland's opening day draw in the 2016 Six Nations Champipnship. Video: David Dunne

 

So we were all wrong; the toughest 20 days of Joe Schmidt’s journey began yesterday with a draw to Wales; it could have been better but it could have been worse.

Liam Williams started at fullback; a Welsh improvement? But then Dan Biggar went off; a Welsh loss?

Either way it was a fascinating encounter for what Wales were doing and Ireland’s management of same. On 64 minutes Johnny Sexton took a ball from a down and give lineout inside his own half and with Wales defending a potential Sexton wrap around they stayed high looking to drift. A hole opened in Wales’ midfield and Sexton powered through. Had he spent the previous hour blocking Jamie Roberts in the number ten channel he would most likely have been in the medical room rather than full of energy.

Wales did much of what we expected. They attacked the same way but yesterday they rewound an awful lot and much of their backline passing was lateral and rarely tested the Irish tackler. They did look like a team that were trying to play rugby whereas Ireland were playing the pressure game and feeding off the Welsh mistakes.

Very fruitful

Why die Wales wait for an hour before really encouraging Roberts into the game? His flow of ball in the corridor of power proved very fruitful and all of a sudden Sexton was shipping big hits where he ultimately exited; he made eight tackles throughout but most of them in this period.

Wales now flowed and but for Welsh hooker Scott Baldwin on 61:52 Wales would have won. What he was looking at as the ball floated to him I don’t know but he dropped it with a massive overlap outside him.

Second Captains

Credit must go to the Irish front five who continually filled the pitch to ensure fatties were tacking their biggest men; protecting those who need protecting.

Ireland survived and did more than just that. Devin Toner’s management of the lineout was crucial; electing for shortened lineouts at key moments to prevent Wales from triple podding in the air.

The Welsh did succeed in pressurising Rory Best but Ireland limited the Welsh threat superbly. The same shortened lineouts provided cracking attacking platforms through the maul; the down and give and off the top. Simon Zebo who had a curious game sprung to life off these opportunities. His several line selections were superb. Scotland wax lyrical at their man Stuart Hogg but Zebo has better lines and given more opportunity can cut any defence apart.

Real pressure

What an international beginning for CJ Stander. First cap, at home, and those opening minutes are things of dreams. Ireland attacked and he got on the ball three times in one flow. Each time making ground, each time adding value to the ball and each time of huge value to his team.

Tommy O’Donnell on the other flank deserves enormous credit in transitioning from career ending to yesterday’s performance in such a short time. He was outstanding in nullifying any threat from the Welsh opensides, with Sam Warburton working hard throughout but with limited returns.

With Louis Picamoles’ early exit in Paris both England’s Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau were the leading number eights in heavy, heavy, traffic but Jamie Heaslip had a towering performance freed by much of Stander’s quality work; which is the best compliment of all; confidence from Heaslip to get on with his own workload and not worry unduly about Stander’s.

The Irish scrum was being asked questions by Wales especially when the Welsh were crabbing the scrum laterally left. It was tidied up especially when sub tighthead Tomas Francis, who looked very uncomfortable, came on.

But Welsh crabbing or referee Garcès’ interpretation of same was costly in the closing minutes of the half. What looked like an old fashioned channel four strike by the Welsh popped out at Tipuric on the right hand side. The crabbing scrum caused the channel four and Faletau, first to react, got his try.

In getting a draw when expecting a Welsh win it’s fair to suggest the latter appear the most comfortable side of the six that played at the weekend. Hence, Ireland should feel a huge sense of achievement in earning a draw. Andrew Trimble managed some massive defensive hits but Sean Cronin’s early massive hit on Roberts – was a thing of beauty!

Finally: is it the legal responsibility of the tackling player (Keith Earls) to manage the outcome of the tackled player (Liam Williams) even when Williams flies into the tackle? liamtoland@yahoo.com

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