My piece over on the Elverys Sports Blog today takes a detailed look at what Jonathan Davies and Brian O’Driscoll contributed for the Lions in the second test. Have a read of that piece by clicking here. The video above highlights the lack of understanding between the pair, which I talk about in the article. I feel that Jamie Roberts has to start at 12 for the third Test, with Brian O’Driscoll outside him. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment over on the Elverys Sports Blog.
If you missed the game on Sunday, here’s all the tries and kicks from Ireland’s 23-21 loss to Wales, including Leigh Halfpenny’s match-winning penalty in the last minute:
The first try (2.00) is fine example of how passive and reactive the Irish defence was on Sunday. All afternoon, Ireland seemed happy to let Wales run at them. It was rare for the Irish to get up hard off the defensive line and make dominant hits. Wales smartly went back down the blindside where Ireland had basically left themselves with a 5 v 2 to defend. Mike Ross and Tommy Bowe were in an awful defensive situation, but ultimately they made no real decision, just let Wales come at them.
Their first steps were sideways and then backwards, allowing Priestland to use his pace to get outside Ross, and get his hands through the despairing tackle for the offload. Watching the clip, the most surprising thing is that Ross and Bowe aren’t screaming for some their teammates to get across to the blindside. Pause the clip at 2.27 and you see how bad a position Ireland left themselves in. Only then do Gordon D’Arcy and Rory Best try to get to the blindside, too late. That lack of urgency affected Ireland badly on Sunday.
Rory Best’s try (4.09) came after Ireland had put together some quick phases and attacked Wales around the fringes with quickly recycled ball, a rare commodity on Sunday. Good hands then allowed Ireland take advantage of a slip-up by Wales. Pause the video at 4.43 and you will see that Priestland has made a bad decision to bite in on D’Arcy, which allows the Irish centre to put Bowe away on Priestland’s outside shoulder.
Wing Alex Cuthbert is left in no man’s land and decides to grab Bowe, but the Ospreys wing has his hands free to send Best over. A good try from an Irish point of view, but one Wales will be unhappy with. Ireland were clinical that time and it shows that they can be an effective attacking force.
Wales were strong at the breakdown again on Sunday. (c) Joslyn Layne.
The next try was Davies’ second, made by George North (7.18). Wales run a simple spot behind Jamie Roberts to North, in off his wing. The pass goes early enough to allow D’Arcy to step up on North. Pause the clip at 2.23, just after North gets the ball. There’s D’Arcy in front of him, and that is the Ireland centre’s tackle to make. McFadden must concern himself with his opposite number, Davies, who is holding his width.
However, McFadden makes the decision to step in on North. He gets completely bounced off, but he shouldn’t have had to even make that decision. Whether it was lack of communication from D’Arcy, or McFadden’s lack of confidence in D’Arcy, he decided he had to help his midfield partner stop North’s run. As you can see, D’Arcy completely slips off North, not even slowing him down. McFadden still should have done better with his hit. North’s beautiful offload did the rest.
Bowe’s try (9.37) came with Wales down to 14 men and Ireland dominating possession. After battering the Welsh tryline with forward runners, Sexton showed intelligence to move the ball wide. Kearney’s pass was perfect and gave Bowe the space to dive over. From that point, Ireland should have been able to finish Wales off with Bradley Davies still in the bin. But it was Warren Gatland’s side who scored next.
To concede the North try (11.53) with an extra man on the field simply highlighted Ireland’s lack of urgency. It was a shock to see Paul O’Connell miss a tackle on Ian Evans in the build-up. That got Wales in behind the Irish defense and gave their backs lovely front-foot ball to run on to. It’s hard to stop this Welsh back division with that kind of ball, but Ireland managed to get three defenders out to North in the corner.
The manner in which North bounced over exemplified how Wales won the physical battle on Sunday. Watching the tries Ireland conceded, it’s clear that they will need to increase the aggression and urgency of their defence for Saturday’s date in Paris. Julien Malzieu, Louis Picamoles and Aurelien Rougerie will offer plenty more of what Wales served up.
Wales were deserved winners at the Aviva. (c) Paul Wallace.
Disappointment will be the major feeling for this Irish team after their 23-21 loss to Wales. That disappointment will be directed at themselves. Wales were the better team at the Aviva and fully deserved to win, regardless of whether or not Wayne Barnes made the correct call on Stephen Ferris’ last-minute tackle. Warren Gatland’s men played all the rugby and their physicality was spectacular at times.
In a strange role reversal of the World Cup quarter-final between these sides, Wales dominated in terms of possession and territory. Ireland struggled to put together phases for extended periods. Once again, this was in part down to Wales’ intelligence at the breakdown. How many times did we see Welsh tacklers and defenders lying on the wrong side of the ruck, slowing down the speed at which Conor Murray could move it away? Wayne Barnes was particularly tolerant in this aspect of the game, although he did penalise Fergus McFadden for the same offence, allowing Leigh Halfpenny to knock over a penalty.
As pointed out on The Touchline during the week, the breakdown was always going to be one of the key factors in this game. Wales came out on top and this helped them to overcome problems with their lineout. Allied to that was their aggressive line speed in defence. Welsh defensive coach Shaun Edwards has always preached the benefits of a proactive defence and we saw his work at first hand again today.
In complete contrast, Ireland were largely reactive in defence. The shape of Ireland’s defence is almost always good, in that they consistently have the numbers needed to defend any situation. The problem against Wales was that even though the defence was in position, the line speed was not there. Ireland’s first two or three steps up in defence were quick, but then they seemed to sit back on their heels and allow Wales to run at them. Too many times, Wales won the physical collisions. While it’s true that they have some prime specimens, particularly in the backline, that is no excuse.
Wales' Paul James and Jamie Roberts had plenty of reason to smile after an impressive team display. (c) Phil Rogers.
The late withdrawal of Keith Earls didn’t seem to alter the anticipated Welsh game-plan as they continually attacked the 13 channel. Fergus McFadden had an extremely busy day defensively, and must be credited for his 16 tackles. However, the manner in which George North bounced him off for Jon Davies’ second try was disappointing. McFadden went in far too high on the freakishly strong 19-year-old. The tackling for North’s own try was again weak, as he went through three defenders in the left-hand corner.
We must applaud the Welsh skills for their tries. Rhys Priestland’s offload for Davies’ first try was gorgeous and North’s flick after bouncing McFadden was even better. With that flash of creative skill, the prodigy showed his game has more to it than sheer brutishness. Tommy Bowe was completely outplayed by his opposite number, although the Monaghan man did show his fine finishing ability for Ireland’s second try.
The frustrating thing is that both Irish tries showed what this team is capable of doing. They just couldn’t impose themselves over the Welsh enough to do it regularly, the ten minutes where Bradley Davies was in the bin aside. That ten minutes saw Declan Kidney’s men get on top and score through Bowe. Still, the immediate feeling was that they needed to get more than the 5 points they managed in that time. That would prove to be the case as Wales battered their way over through North and then won the game in controversial circumstances.
Would Ferris’ tackle have warranted a penalty and yellow if Davies hadn’t been sent to the bin earlier? Probably not, but it’s beside the point really. An Irish win today would have felt like an escape. Obviously the Irish players would have gladly taken a victory, but would it have been deserved? The euphoria of a win would have masked the deficiencies of this Ireland performance. Surely the end product of combining our undoubtedly strong provinces can produce more than what we saw today? Perhaps it will. This Six Nations is only just underway and it would be foolish to write off Ireland straight away.
Wales won this game because they dominated the physical battle, beat Ireland at the breakdown and produced moments of creative skill at crucial times. Declan Kidney has plenty of improvement to draw from his team and there is a lot they can learn from Wales.