Wednesday 16 January 2019

Gatland laments Welsh indiscipline after Irish open door

Wales boss Warren Gatland expecting Ireland to win the Six Nations championship Photo: Getty
Wales boss Warren Gatland expecting Ireland to win the Six Nations championship Photo: Getty

James Corrigan

Warren Gatland was not about to raise his bat to acknowledge his 100 and the Wales players should be relieved. Because if the Kiwi had, he would likely have brought it down upon one or more of their heads.

As exciting as their fightback was, this was essentially a step backwards for a young Welsh team who had inspired no shortage of positivity on the west wide of the Severn after the vibrant toppling of Scotland and then what many of their number regarded as the unfortunate defeat at Twickenham.

There was absolutely no recourse to the injustices of Lady Luck on this occasion. True, they were alive until the very final seconds and Gatland claimed that had Jacob Stockdale not made that interception in the last throes then Wales would have enjoyed a "potentially match-winning" three-on-one.

Yet the closeness of the match was essentially all down to the aim of the otherwise excellent Johnny Sexton. A wag might wonder why he does not drop-kick his penalties and conversions.

Sexton's profligacy and an Irish defence which alarmingly seemed to narrow the longer the match continued, handed Wales a shot with which, with their new found élan and creativity, they threatened to stage a Dublin daylight robbery.

In truth, it would have been completely unwarranted, such had been the disparity in possession, which was 70 per cent in Ireland's favour at the end, but which had been a staggering 85 per cent after the Irish secured the four-try bonus point after 53 minutes.

Ireland were even more dominant in terms of in territory, with 75 per cent of play taking place in the visitors' half. But all this stemmed from Welsh indiscipline and this is what annoyed Gatland most.

All week he warned his men that Ireland live off penalties, kicking to the sidelines and, from there, effecting their monotonous but almost irresistible driving mauls. Yet after conceding just two penalties in 80 minutes against England, Wales managed to ship up two in the first five minutes at the Aviva Stadium. By the final whistle it was nine.

"Discipline, the number of penalties we gave away," Gatland said. "We spoke about not allowing them opportunities to get penalties to drive and squeeze us. They were very strong in our own 22 and our line defence wasn't as good as it needed to be.

"When we 13-5 up after 30 minutes we weren't able to manage the game up to half-time, which is disappointing.

"They went with a strategy in terms of coming hard off nine and little wraparounds. They got some success out of that. We were trying to be a bit more expansive. When we kept the ball, we scored points."

The trouble was that, by then, they had made their game of catch-up nigh on uncatchable and certainly that flat first hour - as the Welsh mishandled and the hosts took their clinical and emphatic grip - was no way to mark Gatland's century of games in charge of Wales.

Only Graham Henry, Gatland's countryman, had previously reached the milestone with one country and the All Blacks tactician would have all too easily recognised the Welsh propensity for slow starts after his time with the nation at the changing of the millennia.

"We had to chase the game in the second half," Alun Wyn Jones, the Wales captain, said. "We were too late; another 10 minutes would have been interesting.

"It was too little, too late. We'll have a look at how things go. It's a disappointing day for us."

Indeed it was and, frankly, it was more than a little bizarre that Wales were able to forge an eight-point lead in a first half where for long spells they appeared to be little more than bystanders.

The late cracks in the Irish defence should not be able to mask the red-shirted failings. Consider that Ireland made more than 450 metres with ball in hand - Wales barely reached the 250 mark, despite their rousing late flurries.

Ireland launched more than twice as many runs as their opponents, and few would have envisaged that superiority. But they were hardly expansive and Gatland seemed to be dabbling in rich sarcasm afterwards when hailing the advances in the Irish offensive game plan.

"I upset Joe [Schmidt, the Irish coach] a few years ago with how I said they played, so I thought they were outstanding," he said with a broad grin. "They moved the ball brilliantly and some of the tries they scored were exceptional."

Gatland agreed that Wales' Championship hopes are over and that means there is only one more opportunity to lift the Six Nations title before he leaves Wales after the World Cup.

He will use the Italy and France matches to look further into his squad and surely only injury or illness will keep George North from the starting XV, such was his impact when coming on.

"We want to finish third in the table as that is important," Gatland said.

"But we can look to develop some depth in these games."


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