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Election day's green wave takes the hard labour route to securing win

Tommy Conlon



'Van der Flier's try early in the second half left the cushion looking more reasonable.' Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

'Van der Flier's try early in the second half left the cushion looking more reasonable.' Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

'Van der Flier's try early in the second half left the cushion looking more reasonable.' Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The word was that the Irish players wouldn't get to vote in the election yesterday and so, rather than fulfilling their democratic mandate, they had to merely make do with their patriotic duty instead.

They beat Wales in Lansdowne Road and they deserved to - they earned it. Ireland were basically the more honest team. They worked harder and for longer. They were probably the more limited team, too, at least in terms of attacking flair and class, but it didn't matter because ultimately they wanted the win more.

Wales played like a team that had bought into their own publicity after their facile whitewash of Italy. Ireland played like a team that had plenty to prove after scratching out a victory in a flawed performance against Scotland. Wales turned up and played only in spasms while Ireland turned up to play like navvies. They rolled their sleeves up while the Welsh seemed to think they could turn on the sexy rugby at their own time of choosing.

This time arrived early in the third quarter when they found themselves trailing 19-7 after Josh van der Flier's try. Suddenly the visitors were all urgency in their movement, passing and body language. And just ten minutes later it seemed they were justified in their hubris: bang, they had turned it on and now Hadleigh Parkes had them back in the game as he reached across the try line and dotted down. Except he hadn't: his one-handed touchdown was bogus, he'd lost control of the ball as he planted it. For the second week in a row Ireland had been reprieved by the butchered finishing of an opponent with the line at his mercy.

But this time round you couldn't say the home side were lucky to get away with it. Wales hadn't shown much stomach for the battle up until then and it turned out that their third-quarter rally was more the result of panic than conviction.

Ireland lifted the siege courtesy of a crucial scrum on the hour mark, on their own five-metre line; they hung tougher when the hammer came down and referee Romain Poite pinged the Welsh for collapsing. The Irish players celebrated like they'd won the match.

As it turned out, they had, for Wales reverted to their previous mood once the moment had passed. They had gone up a gear, they'd sustained it for about 15 minutes, they got no reward and duly faded away in the fourth quarter.

They just did not have the heart for it before or after that third quarter. They had the offloads alright, and the flair and creativity, but they looked like a team who thought these flashier assets would be enough to get the job done.

The pattern of the first half probably confirmed this idea for them. It was mostly about containment and counter-attack. And sure enough, they soaked up enormous amounts of pressure without looking stretched to their limits. At the very start of the match they comfortably defended an Irish scrum on their own five-metre line and the same trend continued for long periods thereafter: Ireland lording the possession and territory, Wales dealing with it without needing to be ferocious. Ireland looked familiarly blunt in attack, short of verve and cutting-edge speed. Wales were picking them off and turning them over repeatedly.

At last, Jordan Larmour supplied the magic that had been missing. But one try, not converted, looked like scant reward for 20 minutes of bashing and battering at the Welsh defence. This sense of foreboding was reinforced when Wales scored with practically their first decent attack.

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Out of nowhere, with just a patina of slick manoeuvring, they were skating in for their try and taking the lead. In terms of carbon footprint, Ireland had burned half a rainforest working up a score whilst the visitors had expended no energy in manufacturing theirs.

By now, almost half an hour in, there was little to dissuade the Welsh that they could take this game whenever the humour hit them. But all the while, Ireland were outworking them; they were compensating for the flair deficit with industrial levels of graft. When Tadhg Furlong horsed himself over from close range, the 12-7 lead at half-time still looked like a parsimonious reward for all the commitment they'd invested. Ireland had thrown most of the punches; the fear was that they'd punched themselves out.

Van der Flier's try early in the second half left the cushion looking more reasonable. At which point, the visitors finally decided to get cracking. But it remains a fundamental truth in serious sport that a team cannot expect to turn the tap on and off whenever they choose to, without getting punished for the presumption.

Wales turned it on all right but one could argue that the Parkes' fumble was exactly what they deserved for being so shallow in their efforts heretofore. It wasn't so much bad luck as bad karma.

When Ireland finally lifted the siege around the hour mark, it was they who took the game by the scruff once more. They drove on in the final quarter. They didn't just hang on the ropes hoping to work the clock and survive until the bell. They kept going and the more they kept going, the further the Welsh receded from the contest. The visitors' second try came in garbage time when the home crowd were already celebrating.

One doubts that this result and performance represents the turning of a corner for the team after the prolonged slump in 2019. But it could be a sound foundation for progress. And the foundation, as it always must, was built on honesty and toil. They are two from two; Twickenham in a fortnight will tell us more.

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