‘We’ve got to start playing like the team we can become’

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones and head coach Wayne Pivac happy to win ugly

On June 11th 2016 CJ Stander was red carded on his return to Cape Town. With 22 minutes on the clock the Springboks carried off their badly concussed outhalf Patrick Lambie as a heroic 14 man Ireland recorded a first and only victory in South Africa.

Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Conor Murray survived the Newlands experience to tell the tale. A still growing Tadhg Furlong came off the bench just like he did in Cardiff on Sunday afternoon.

That performance exuded all the bravery and heroics evident at the Principality stadium after Peter O’Mahony walked for an unquestionable red card.

“It crept into the back of my mind when Pete went off,” said Henderson. “But a lot of that team from that day aren’t playing in this squad.”

The Ulster captain could rattle off a lifetime of experiences since that tour.

“If someone asked me before the game if someone got a card early on, I would say I would have expected everyone to dig in the way they did. That’s the type of group that we are, that is the type of friends we have become. It shows in our training.

“Johnny (Sexton) just spoke about how frustrating it is to show glimpses of what we are going to become. Now we’ve got to start playing like the team we can become.”

Wales have themselves as ugly a win as any team with one extra player could imagine.

"It's a result," shrugged Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, who entered the contest with a purple shiner seemingly caused by a dig from Jake Ball at training during the week. "There's parts of the performance we'll be pleased with. We put ourselves under pressure.

“I think we tried too hard when we went a man to the good, but we showed character late on. We came through in the end.”

How’d you get the black eye? “I’m sure there’s a queue of others. Let’s just move on.”

Nothing the Welsh said, nothing in their demeanour, screamed confidence-boosting-victory but the relief was palpable. Even across Zoom.

There were too many wounded, particularly Dan Lydiate blowing out his knee, and far too many head injuries for any back slapping. This was an engrossing yet horrendously punishing test match. This was rugby in 2021, labelled with a "parental advisory explicit content" sticker.

James Ryan and Sexton were both stunned and forced off the pitch while Robbie Henshaw passed his Head Injury Assessment before returning to the fray. Wales centre Johnny Williams failed his HIA and Hallam Amos also departed the scene.

"Since taking over the role it's really about this competition," said Wayne Pivac, the Wales head coach. "It was day one, round one. Very important we got a win, we've now got to refocus as we've got a six-day turnaround before facing a very confident and very strong Scotland squad, to go and play in their backyard."

Not that an empty Murrayfield is any more of an advantage than Lansdowne Road will be when the French roll into the silent city.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent