Paul O’Connell: Ireland’s captain beaten but unbowed
O’Connell admits mistakes cost Ireland against Wales but already looking forward to next week’s match against Scotland
An Irish winning streak broken, a Grand Slam halted, the Championship wide open and Paul O’Connell’s 100th cap soured by just a third Welsh win over Ireland in cardiff since 1983.
O’Connell, the Grand Master, was central to much of the Irish play as well as an ever present figure at the breakdown.
As the team surged in the second half with replacement scrumhalf, Eoin Reddan, picking up the tempo at the back of the pack, O’Connell also became more involved in carrying the ball and driving Ireland.
In all, the centurion Irish lock carried 22 times and it was he who triggered Ireland’s 32 phases as he broke deep into the Welsh 22 on 50 minutes. It was however a vain effort from Ireland, where inaccuracies with the ball and an unyielding Welsh line ruined a potential Grand Slam party.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. Unfortunately we just didn’t go and do that,” said O’Connell afterwards. “We had a chance down there. We had a lot of phases and they held out. Then when they had their crack in our 22 they took it.
“We got back down there and scored one and had a chance to score another one. I think that moment when they held us out and then came down and scored probably played a big part in the game.”
Joe Schmidt echoed the sentiments of his captain and felt Ireland had played their way back but fumbled the chances that led to Wales winning.
“I think we let ourselves down a little bit,” said Schmidt. “But a lot of credit goes to the Welsh defence.”
As Ireland face into their final match against Scotland next week knowing they have to win to claim back-to-back championships, O’Connell will look at one of the areas of the Irish performance in which he takes great pride. But he may look at it with some dismay.
The scrum was solid enough but of Ireland’s 10 lineouts, four were lost to the Welsh, the first nicked by man-of-the-match and Wales captain, Sam Warburton as Rory Best aimed for Devin Toner at the back.
Ireland also lost their second lineout and two more in the second half as throws from both Best and replacement hooker Sean Cronin went awry. O’Connell will also looked to the opening quarter of the match, where Wales took a 12-0 lead.
The home side, though Leigh Halfpenny, were 9-0 up after nine minutes and went 12-0 ahead after 13 minutes. It changed the complexion of the contest from the off as Ireland were forced into a chasing game.
It was also where O’Connell’s captaincy was crucial to Ireland keeping their heads. The secondrow could be seen calling his players into a huddle and holding their confidence as Halfpenny lined up his four early penalties.
“I think we did that quite well,” said O’Connell of the way Ireland came back into contention. Despite the handling errors and knock-ons, Ireland were just four points off Wales at 20-16 with 11 minutes remaining.
“We spoke about it,” added the Irish captain. “But I thought the discipline at the start of the game was a bit was a disappointing. Then I thought we got back into it really well. We probably needed to score in that big period when we were down in their 22, in their green zone.
“If we’d scored there we could have continued the momentum we had been building.”
As O’Connell has broken into the three figure mark for his number of Irish appearances – and becomes a member of a very exclusive club that also contains John Hayes, Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara - he will look towards building on it with Scotland next weekend in Edinburgh.
“Two weeks ago they (England) gave us a leg up and this week I think we probably gave them (Wales) a leg up,” said O’Connell, the downbeat mood tempered by the fact that the championship is still very much alive on the last weekend.
“I’m not sure what the point difference is,” added the Irish captain. “There isn’t a whole lot in it now. It’s a week to make sure we recover and look back at this to help us move forward. That’s the big focus now as we still have a crack at the championship.”