Sunday 25 February 2018

Hard to have sympathy for ragged welsh

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

While it would be somewhat arrogant to suggest we ran riot, a 15-point margin is a pretty substantial winning difference when all is said and done.

I had expected it to be much closer but a man in the bin now equates to one, if not two, scores a game. It is difficult to have sympathy for Wales, given the stupidity of the misdemeanor involved. For whatever reason Lee Byrne, normally the epitome of composure, was all fired up. Even before the first of two mindless acts of indiscipline, he gave one of the touch judges a mouthful for failing to give him the yardage he felt he deserved from a penalty kick to touch.

The so-called professional foul on Tomas O'Leary got the sanction it deserved. His follow on in throwing the ball out of play could and should have got a second card of a different colour. Warren Gatland was absolutely right in his post-match comments when he highlighted his full-back's acts of indiscipline but equally, as with Alun-Wyn Jones against England, it does suggest an overhyped malaise within the squad.

It wasn't by any means the root cause to this third Welsh defeat in four but unless management keep a lid on pent-up dressing-room emotion, then self-destructive on-field eruption is inevitable. Perhaps a repeat lesson for Wales on 'fire in the belly, ice in the mind' prior to taking on Italy wouldn't go amiss.

While the Irish scrum did creak on occasion, it was one such set piece that effectively sealed the game as a contest. The Irish eight drilled the visitors when Martyn Williams had ignored a straightforward three points in favour of the five-metre scrum. Turning over that scrum will have provided the crowning moment for every Irish player involved.

Add to that an Irish line-out firing on all cylinders, the nub of the Welsh problem is a lot easier to understand. Without possession, even the most attack-conscious backs in the world will struggle, particularly against a well-organised opposition. It may not have been as obvious as the French in the first half in Cardiff but Ireland had the Welsh -- particularly down the outside tracks -- running the lines they wanted them to.

Only Jamie Roberts, through power and determination, managed to provide the occasional forward momentum. Otherwise it was the Welsh with too little space and too many players edging towards the touch line.

From an Irish perspective, there was much to enthuse without getting too carried away. We were street-wise and combative -- every player contributed, but with both locks and David Wallace the most conspicuous. Behind the scrum O'Leary was immense and a deserving Man of the Match. His box kicking is still in need of improvement, particularly on the right, where it is much too often overcooked for even the most willing kick-chaser in Tommy Bowe.

Keith Earls continues to grow into the top-quality international player we know he's capable of becoming. He was to the manor born alongside centurion Brian O'Driscoll in midfield.

Paddy Wallace will come back into the equation pending the extent of Gordon D'Arcy's injury. He deserves to be in that frame but, were the call mine, the centre combination to face Scotland in the event of D'Arcy missing out is a pure no brainer.

As for Jonny Sexton? Like at Twickenham, he missed some relatively easy point-scoring opportunities yet with ball in hand was again the business. That is the surest sign of a top-quality playmaking talent.

When the goalkicking goes awry, all the other bits and pieces stay in place. However, Declan Kidney has an important out-half call to make for Saturday, but we will develop that tomorrow.

For now, let us bask in a job well done and in a win that sets up the Croke Park finale for a Triple Crown decider. I, like Kidney, still believe in its significance.

The day we devalue a potential Triple Crown will be the day we commence on the slippery slope to nowhere.

Irish Independent

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