There’s an old cliché used in sport, ‘you don’t become a bad team overnight,’ but there’s another which says ‘You’re only as good as your last game.’ Let’s hope for Wales’ sake at least that they’re far better than what happened on Saturday in the Aviva.
Warren Gatland described it as the “worst performance since I’ve been involved,” and dear God is he right. Wales were completely outplayed in every facet of the game. I don’t remember a Wales team being outplayed and beaten so comprehensively since 2007.
So what happened? Well to put it simply, Wales were completely stuffed up front. I thought Wales would edge the tight five battle, I was wrong. I thought the Welsh back row would at least gain parity, wrong again. I thought Wales would crash over the gainline…can you see a pattern developing here?
A shoddy lineout, terrible discipline, inability to defend a maul and a bad kicking game were ultimately what defeated Wales. While Wales kicked long and tried to defend, Ireland kicked high and pressured the catcher, or kicked to touch and put huge pressure on the shaky Welsh lineout.
While Wales were unable to put any phases of play together, Ireland were outstanding (while still not stringing many phases together themselves). They dominated absolutely every facet of the game. Pragmatic and clinical, they nullified Wales’ power game by simply not letting them put any phases together, O’Mahony and Henry were magnificent at the breakdown and Jonny Sexton’s kicking game was fantastic.
Alot of credit has to go to Joe Schmidt for putting a game plan in place that would do what no other northern hemisphere team has been able to do since Gatland took over, and that is not allow Wales any momentum at all.
Wales gave away 15 penalties, Ireland gave away 9 and crucially only allowed Leigh Halfpenny one kick at goal all game. And the only chance Wales did have to score a try they blew their load too early and got penalised for a double movement.
The single biggest factor though was the driving lineout. Ireland had previously shown glimpses of being good at this but haven’t dominated a game with it like this before. 20 of Ireland’s points came either directly or indirectly from the maul. The Irish game plan was executed perfectly.
So why were Wales so bad? Well for one Ireland didn’t allow them to play. Wales missed 16 out of 101 tackles (I would not like to be in the room when Shaun Edwards reveals that little stat). While they only lost 2 lineouts (a completion of 87%) the lineouts they did win were to the front and scrappy, not ideal for launching big runners into the midfield.
Wales also suffered (in my opinion) by playing two players who have played barely any rugby this season. Sam Warburton hasn’t played a match since the Autumn internationals against Australia and international rugby is not the place to gain match fitness. There’s no need to play him when someone of Justin Tipuric’s calibre sits on the bench. Gethin Jenkins, similarly has barely played any rugby this year. Also, why, when Priestland was clearly having a shocker and the Welsh team could have used an infusion of spark, was James Hook left on the bench? Again Wales suffered from having no Plan B. Although it’s very rare that Plan A isn’t effective.
Ireland on the other hand missed 9 of 131 tackles, won 94% of their lineout, stole 2 of wales’ lineouts cleanly and won 10 turnovers.
Wales actually made more passes and carries but they were all ineffective and gained no quick ball. Ireland continued where they left of against New Zealand and were clinical, effective and brutally physical at the breakdown, have I mentioned how incredible Peter O’Mahony was?
They took their points when they were afforded to them and closed out the game with a professionalism and effectiveness that I haven’t seen from any Ireland team in a long, long time. Everybody thought Shcmidt was going to mould Ireland into an international version of Leinster where they played in the wide channels with tempo and a multi phase game. I guess on that count everybody was wrong.
I’d expect Ireland to now go on and finish either top, or in second place. While I think Wales will do well to finish third unless they can seriously up their game.
Everybody thought that the poor Welsh performance against Italy was beginning of the tournament rustiness, doesn’t look that way now. Maybe teams have figured out how to beat Warrenball? And it’s not by playing flowing, fancy, attacking rugby. It’s by being aggressive, nullifying any position and an accurate kicking game and amazing discipline. Not very attractive, but very effective. Ireland showed this, let’s just hope that nobody shows anybody French or English the game tape.