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Warren Gatland sends message to England as Wales boss reveals gameplan that can beat Ireland

Keith Earls, Bundee Aki, Dan Leavy, Andrew Porter and Devin Toner celebrate as Cian Healy barrels over for Ireland’s fourth. Photo: Sportsfile
Keith Earls, Bundee Aki, Dan Leavy, Andrew Porter and Devin Toner celebrate as Cian Healy barrels over for Ireland’s fourth. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Even Joe Schmidt couldn't conceal his amazement as he left the press conference podium at Lansdowne Road and was provided with an update from Murrayfield, where the Scots were busy turning this Six Nations on its head.

Within an hour of exiting the room, he was fully aware that his team are the last unbeaten side standing and have 160 minutes between them and history.

Scotland's win perhaps complicates the game in two weeks as it also keeps them in the title hunt, but it simplifies the equation for an Irish team chasing a third title under the New Zealander's watch.

Five points ahead of England with two games to go, they have a 24-point buffer on scoring difference and they know that a bonus point win over Gregor Townsend's Scots would put one hand on the trophy.

After watching the action-packed footage from Murrayfield they won't be getting carried away, but having scored five tries against Wales in a dominant performance that deserved a more comfortable win, it is a realistic target.

They will hope to welcome that Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong are back from their recent setback, while the return of longterm absentees Garry Ringrose and Seán O'Brien could also bolster resources.

24 February 2018; Devin Toner of Ireland celebrates with his son Max, age 5 months, following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Devin Toner of Ireland celebrates with his son Max, age 5 months, following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Sean Cronin of Ireland with his son Finn
DUBLIN, IRELAND - FEBRUARY 24: Jacob Stockdale of Ireland on his way to scoring a first half try under pressure from Leigh Halfpenny of Wales during the NatWest Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium on February 24, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
24 February 2018; Ireland players, from left, Keith Earls, Bundee Aki, Conor Murray and Dan Leavy celebrate after Cian Healy, hidden, scored their side's fourth try during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Dan Leavy, left, of Ireland runs in to celebrate with team mates after Jacob Stockdale scored their side's fifth try during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Rob Kearney, 15, of Ireland celebrates after Jacob Stockdale scored their side's fifth try during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Conor Murray, right, and Rob Kearney of Ireland following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Rob Kearney of Ireland celebrates a try by Jacob Stockdale during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Rob Kearney, left, and Chris Farrell of Ireland celebrate a try by Jacob Stockdale during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Andrew Porter of Ireland following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
24 February 2018; Devin Toner of Ireland hands his match jersey to ballboy Colman Toner following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

A bruising encounter saw Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls and Peter O'Mahony leave the field after receiving treatment, while Conor Murray somehow got up and played on after an ugly incident in which he appeared to have hurt his knee.

They're likely to have a reduced training load this week as attention turns to the freewheeling Scots, who will have watched Wales and Italy cause the men in green huge problems out wide, just as Scotland did in Murrayfield last season.

Schmidt called some of the defending "slipshod" in the aftermath, while Warren Gatland expanded on where he felt Ireland could be hurt.

He suggested that the key to taking down Schmidt's side is to keep the ball in play for as long as possible, using their relentless game plan against them.

"I think we had 48 minutes ball-in-play time last week and today we were 32 minutes," the defeated coach explained.

"It was a very stop-start game. We looked at the stats over the years when we have played Ireland and anything over 44 minutes we have won the games and anything 37 or below they have won the games.

"They have managed that and controlled the game well in terms of momentum.

"We saw the last 10 minutes, it was stop-start every time the whistle went, someone went down and it slowed down the tempo of the game. We have got to be able to adjust to that.

"We scored 27 points and quite conceivably we could have scored with the last play of the game.

"If Stockdale doesn't get the intercept, or we pass out the back, we potentially score.

"The players afterwards felt comfortable with the ball and if we are accurate and we play through phases they felt they were capable of scoring against Ireland.

"We just didn't have enough territory or possession to exploit that and we need to keep improving.

"That is definitely something that we have been working really hard, from a conditioning, fitness point of view, in the last two games, in those last 10-15 minutes we have felt our conditioning and fitness was good.

"We looked at Italy, I think Italy scored 19 points towards the end of last week. We were conscious of that, being in the game and staying in the game and if we did that we had the chance to finish on top of them.

"They are a hard team to break down, they are a good defensive team, they defend quite narrowly and came hard off their line and frustrated us at times.

"You have got to keep your patience against an Irish team, be prepared to kick a little bit, stay in that arm wrestle and wait for opportunities.

"The disappointing thing from our point of view is that the things we worked on during the week and spoke about in the week came back to haunt us, like the discipline, being prepared to go through lots and lots of phases against an Irish team without giving anything away.

"Unfortunately we didn't do that and, as I said, when they got close to our goal line they were very good."

Schmidt later spoke about the high level of ball in play, but it turned out Gatland was closer to the mark.

During last year's loss to Wales in Cardiff the ball was in play for 47 minutes 28 seconds, while the draw between the sides in Dublin saw the ball in play for 42: 53, and for Wales' win in 2015 it was 43:47 .

On Saturday it was down to 32:57 and that can be attributed to Ireland's clever game-management.

And yet the relentless nature of their attacking game appeared to take a real toll and in the final quarter it was Wales who looked the stronger team.

They have conceded five of their seven tries in the final quarters of their three games, but it shouldn't be forgotten how they finished so strong to put together the long series of phases that led to Sexton's drop-goal in Paris.

Perhaps of more concern is their wide defending and the ease with which the impressive Welsh attacking game managed to find room on the edges.

It made for uncomfortable viewing for defence coach Andy Farrell and continued a trend. This was the 10th time Ireland have coughed up three or more tries in his 18 games involved.

The former England international is widely hailed by the squad and has spoken about how he doesn't necessarily look at tries as a measure of the success or otherwise of his defence, but he won't be happy with those figures.

"I'm sure that we will do better. I think that Andy Farrell does an unbelievably good job," Schmidt said.

"When you do make personnel changes off the bench, we had guys making slightly different decisions. We got disconnected and it allowed them a fair bit of latitude to score tries and they scored some good ones."

Is it a concern?

"It is, obviously, with the runners Scotland have - the Stuart Hoggs, the Tommy Seymours, the likes of Sean Maitland, who are very quick athletes. It's always a concern.

"I think we helped them a little bit. We didn't stay connected, we had guys doing different things and I think we can repair a lot of that over the next two weeks.

"It was frustrating against Italy and it was frustrating today, albeit with lots of positives about eight tries and five tries (scored).

"What we are creating is keeping us safe from losses, but we've got to do better than conceding three tries two weekends in a row."

If they can do that, they can go on to win the title and, possibly, the Grand Slam. The party line is that it's all one game at a time, but nobody told Chris Farrell (left), who is daring to dream.

"Absolutely, of course there's belief," he said when asked by TV3's Sinead Kissane if the Slam was on.

"We believe."

Irish Independent

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