Saturday 10 December 2016

Welsh dominance gives Joe Schmidt plenty to ponder

Ireland 10 Wales 16

Brendan Fanning at the Aviva stadium

Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30

Sean Cronin, Ireland, is tackled by Justin Tipuric, left, and Dan Biggar, Wales
Sean Cronin, Ireland, is tackled by Justin Tipuric, left, and Dan Biggar, Wales
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony contests a lineout with Wales' Taulupe Faletau
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell is tackled by Justin Tipuric, left, and James King, Wales
Ireland’s Paul O’Connell and Wales’ Taulupe Faletau after yesterday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up game at the Aviva Stadium

The clock was well into the red at the Aviva yesterday when the decision that would finally separate the teams was referred upstairs to the TMO.

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In a welter of picking and jamming, replacement Seán Cronin had been driven over the line, though with Aaron Jarvis for company it always looked unlikely that the one-man jury would bring in a verdict to please the home crowd.

Sure enough he didn't, and the man who seemed most relieved was referee Craig Joubert who didn't have a lot of control in the endgame - and took time off a few other times during the game as well. He wasn't the difference between the teams, but Joel Jutge would need to take him aside before the World Cup and get him to polish up his act both on straight feeding to the scrum - you don't need a detective to solve that crime on the spot - and a couple of other areas at that phase as well.

The next time Ireland will come across him will be the pool game, against Romania, when it won't matter how bad he is. Joe Schmidt will be relieved it's not a couple of weeks later, against France.

In the meantime the Ireland coach has a few details to sort out. There were a few casualties: Keith Earls took a knock to the head and left on a stretcher; and Luke Fitzgerald hobbled off in some discomfort and immediately applied ice to his hip. With Ireland's back replacements exhausted, Donnacha Ryan came on because Conor Murray - who had gone off earlier as a tactical sub - was eligible to return only as a blood replacement.

Schmidt, though, was playing down both injuries after the game. "Keith just got caught with his head on the wrong side of the tackle, he was totally lucid in the changing room and he remembered his involvement," he said. "The neck brace was precautionary.

"Luke has a glute injury, he's uncomfortable. So, he may be out two or three days, maybe five or six."

Asked if either were doubts for the World Cup, Schmidt said: "I don't think so, it's too early to tell. They'll be monitored and they'll be scanned to make sure they'll be OK."

Peter O'Mahony and Richardt Strauss had shoulder and ankle injuries respectively, neither of them serious.

If the small picture for Schmidt revolves around the injuries then the bigger one is worrying enough as well. We were promised that Wales would look a whole lot better second time around, and they delivered on that promise. Given the dominance of the Welsh defence, and their comfort in contact, Warren Gatland might be disappointed that his team's overwhelmingly dominant performance could have been taken away at the last second. In the artillery war, Ireland were throwing stones at a barn door.

Once rugby rolls away from the first phase it becomes a numbers game, and if you're winning ball but constantly looking up at superior odds then you won't be winning it for much longer. That would explain the official stat of no clean breaks for the home team. Wales only managed two, but 10 offloads to Ireland's two kept the away team on the move. A penalty count of 14-8 in Wales' favour, plus two free kicks at the scrum, told its own story.

The scrum was inconclusive, largely because of Joubert, but Ireland's lineout looked uncomfortable, especially in the opening half hour. The best bit by far in the Ireland game was the stickability that got them to the final straight just a couple of steps behind Wales. Nowhere else were they on top.

And it took on this complexion early enough, so you expected Wales to make more headway sooner. A Leigh Halfpenny penalty, on 17 minutes, was all they had to show, but the try, when it came, had an inevitability about it, the only issue being how many red shirts would be involved in shunting the ball over the line. About a dozen as it happened.

They got possession originally from a knock forward by Rob Kearney off a high kick. He had been involved in a hefty collision with Dan Biggar earlier on and lacked surety when going for this one. Credit to Wales, they used the ball really well, and with a few borderline passes out of contact they ended up in pole position in Ireland's corner.

As the grunting developed in that spot referee Craig Joubert warned O'Connell that the next infringement - Ireland had conceded five penalties to Wales' nil by that point - would involve a card. Perhaps that softened the defence a bit, but on the next drive Gethin Jenkins got over for the try.

Halfpenny's conversion put Wales 10-0 clear and they must have been delighted with themselves. Gatland's teams love mowing people down and certainly they were well ahead in the collision stakes at that point.

Ireland did manage to respond quickly enough though, courtesy of Alun Wyn Jones not rolling away at a ruck, and Johnny Sexton, who had taken a while to settle into what was his first game of the Guinness series, nailed a handy enough kick. It didn't suggest a shift in the trend, and neither did the sequence that followed where Ireland ran through four or five phases around half way without ever looking like they'd get anywhere. Yet they made a big statement at a scrum close in a few minutes later, and from there the excellent Iain Henderson did very well to score. He was by a distance Ireland's best player.

That gave us, despite the run of play, a 10-10 score at the break. And the only man to change that in the second 40 minutes was Halfpenny, with two penalties. Typically he was unerring, and on top of the massive contribution by man of the match Justin Tipuric, and the kicking game which kept the Ireland back three having to deal with a hail of bullets, Wales were in control. It would have been grand larceny had they lost it.

Gatland will be happy that they are moving nicely ahead of the Italy game at the weekend. Ireland will be very uneasy about the trip to Twickenham.

Scorers - Wales: Tipuric try, Halfpenny 3 pens, con; Ireland: Henderson try, Sexton pen, con

Ireland: R Kearney; D Kearney, L Fitzgerald (D Ryan 68), R Henshaw, K Earls (F Jones 64); J Sexton (P Jackson 64), C Murray (E Reddan 64); J McGrath (D Kilcoyne 61), R Strauss (S Cronin 51), N White (T Furlong 57), I Henderson, P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony (S O'Brien 52), J Heaslip, J Murphy.

Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, S Williams, J Roberts, G North; D Biggar (R Priestland 64), R Webb (G Davies 68); G Jenkins (P James 47), K Owens (S Baldwin 55), T Francis (A Jarvis 54), B Davies (L Charteris 54), AW Jones (capt) (J King 73), D Lydiate, T Faletau, J Tipuric

Referee: C Joubert (SA)

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