Monday 23 September 2019

Five things we learned from Ireland's defeat to Wales

Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ireland's Grand Slam hopes are dashed by a defensive performance that Schmidt would have been proud of

1  Good defence wins games

A phenomenal defensive display from Wales stifled Ireland's attacking threat that was all too often pedestrian.

289 Welsh tackles to Ireland's 104 told its own story and while the home side's efforts were to be applauded, Joe Schmidt will have left Cardiff wondering how on earth his side were unable to turn their 64pc possession and 66pc territory into points.

Luke Charteris set a new Six Nations record of 31 tackles which comfortably beat the previous record (27) held by Serge Betsen.

With the way the game is going in the northern hemisphere, it was little wonder that a massive defensive shift was the difference on the day.

Ireland travel to Murrayfield this weekend chasing tries and during a campaign in which they have scored just four, something has to give.

2 Ireland's use of the bench

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While Iain Henderson and Sean Cronin both made telling impacts from the bench, there were players left out of the match-day squad who would have arguably added just as much value.

Tommy O'Donnell was overlooked for Jordi Murphy who has had a decent tournament but the Munster flanker has shown time and time again how explosive he is when being sprung against a tiring defence.

Murphy was only given eight minutes to impress and while his versatility certain works in his favour, as an impact player, O'Donnell has proven his worth.

Felix Jones warmed the bench for the entire 80 minutes while game-changers like Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney must wonder what more they have to do to force themselves back into Ireland plans.

Schmidt has trusted Jones by selecting him throughout the tournament but when Ireland were crying out for a spark in the final quarter, he didn't appear to trust him enough to look for the Munster full-back as he was the only unused substitute.

3 Lack of a 'Plan B' and cutting edge a cause for concern

Schmidt admitted that he was prepared for the sleepless nights ahead and it became so much so that the coach brought forward his usual Monday morning review to last night.

With the set-piece, the lineout in particular, faltering, Ireland's glaring lack of a 'Plan B' was very concerning.

Wales were able to cut open the Ireland defence when Scott Williams was summoned from the bench. The closest Ireland came to getting over the whitewash on their own accord was through a Tommy Bowe break but he was stopped short.

Ireland lacked the sort of cutting edge that supporters have become so accustomed to under Schmidt.

During his time with Leinster, the 'off-the-cuff' moments were a regular sight but the apparent strict systematic approach has meant that there is still huge room for improvement six months out from the World Cup.

4 Lessons must be learned now ahead of the World Cup

Schmidt was always eager to play down talks of a Grand Slam and now that is no longer a possibility, perhaps the hyperbole surrounding Ireland's World Cup hopes will also be dampened.

Not for the first time, Rory Best's lineout throws were at times a mess and Schmidt must now be considering giving Cronin a go from the start.

Ireland remain a dangerous threat to any opposition but they are still far from the finished product which will have Schmidt purring.

5 Ireland's over-reliance on Sexton

A rare off day for Ireland's talismanic out-half resulted in an uncharacteristically poor performance but he wasn't entirely helped by those around them.

The image of Heaslip firing the ball at Sexton who was attempting to marshal those outside him typified the fractured display and seemingly lack of communication.

Johnny Sexton's lack of preparation time due to injury counted against him but Ireland can ill-afford to continue to rely on him as much as they currently do to guide them through tough situations.

Ian Madigan added something different but just like against England, when the Racing Metro out-half went off the pitch, there was an uneasy feeling amongst the supporters that appeared to translate onto the players.

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