Sunday 18 August 2019

Gareth Morgan: 'Schmidt heavily outfoxed in the psychological battle as Ireland fail in rain-sodden al fresco test'


Rivals: Joe Schmidt, head coach of Ireland (left), with Warren Gatland, head coach of Wales. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Rivals: Joe Schmidt, head coach of Ireland (left), with Warren Gatland, head coach of Wales. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

Joe Schmidt does not seem like a selfish man, nor is he the spiteful type. But he can be stubborn, and after Wales demolished Ireland at a sodden Principality Stadium, there was no denying that he had got solely sidetracked. His insistence on keeping the roof open was seen as a dig at Gatland, a personal battle... but it was one that did the fans, the occasion and the sport a deep injustice.

There is an old rugby story about a pre-planned move being called from the base of the scrum. If the codeword started with P, the forwards were to move left. If it started with S, they were to move right. The scrum-half called "psychology". Chaos ensued.

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Matters of the mind have progressed considerably since then. We all know the part psychology can play, and hopefully how to spell it. But once again Gatland, the honorary Welsh wizard, pulled his conjuring trick of making everyone look in the wrong direction.

Schmidt thought he had won the mind games when forcing Wales to play in the pouring rain. Surely he knew they'd have to win an actual game in such foul conditions too? Perhaps he did not know that in parts of Wales it rains nigh on 180 days a year, and most of these Welsh players grew up playing rugby in the muck and drizzle. The game harked back to the old days of Cardiff Arms Park, before they invented such posh things as roofs.

When CJ Stander clumsily fumbled the ball at the base of a scrum in front of the Welsh posts, Irish insistence on an al fresco experience never seemed so foolish. It was 10-0 in mere minutes and could have been more. A penalty for Wales was overturned when Gareth Davies slid in after the whistle. That psychological slip was one of the few mini-battles Wales lost all day.

Meanwhile, the crowd was on fire, goaded and galvanised. Open the roof? They didn't care, determined to make as much noise as possible. In contrast to the funeral parlour atmosphere of the Aviva against England, here the Irish defeat was soundtracked by song after song. Sometimes three different hymns/arias were being sung at once. The Welsh crowd were competing with each other for decibels. It didn't matter.

The Irish contingent had flown in on the tails of Storm Gareth but its namesake, Anscombe, was all calmness as he put the boot in. The second half ticked by: 19-0, 22-0, 25-0. In the conditions, every kick felt like a try and marked another nail in the Irish coffin.

Larmour got the consolation but never has a score been greeted with such silence. The Welsh were momentarily deflated, and the Irish could hardly muster a cheer. Their place as the northern hemisphere's fancied World Cup favourites had been violently usurped.

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Wales wish the Japan tournament was kicking off next week (at least, give them a few days to recover from the celebrations). For Ireland, the only crumb of comfort is that there are almost six months to sort out the mess.

Gareth Morgan is the Irish Independent News Editor and a proud Welshman

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