Tuesday 23 July 2019

Ireland are overrated, England clash diminished: Five things we learned from defeat in Cardiff

Jamie Heaslip (L) and Simon Zebo of Ireland look dejected during the Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at the Principality Stadium
Jamie Heaslip (L) and Simon Zebo of Ireland look dejected during the Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at the Principality Stadium

Roy Curtis

Ireland's Six Nations hopes went up in smoke in Cardiff. Here are five things we learned from the devastating defeat against the Welsh.

1.   Ireland are overrated.

As hope melted away, as Cardiff was reduced to a dying room for Ireland’s Six Nations ambitions, as George North doused the flame of expectation, a stark reality loomed.

It was the one that announced that, maybe, Ireland are something less than the titans we imagined, subordinate to the freight train that flattened the All Blacks in November.

The blemishes in the emerald tapestry, the bulging catalogue of underachievement can no longer be overlooked:  Over the past 17 months, Joe Schmidt’s side have fallen to Argentina, England, France, South Africa (twice), New Zealand, Scotland and now Wales.

For all the stardust of Soldier Field, there have been too many grey, dispiriting failings.

2.   An on-song George North remains European rugby’s deadliest finisher.

Warren Gatland would have watched the leviathan winger’s two-try redemption with scarcely contained glee.

A season of sustained mediocrity had the guillotine hovering menacingly above the neck of the Northampton predator. North’s emphatic response was that of a Lions test wing.

A brace of killing touchdowns, a killing exhibition of pace and power, a timely reminder of the sinew and horsepower contained within his mammoth 6’4”, 17 stone frame. While his Irish counterparts fired blanks, he delivered a pair of emphatic kill-shots.

As he screeched to 30 international tries, North, still just 24 years of age, re-announced himself as Gatland’s principal strike weapon ahead of a looming New Zealand summer.

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Wales' George North celebrates scoring their second try with Rhys Webb

3.   Ireland lacked a serrated edge.

How often did Ireland find themselves retreating from the red zone having failed to transform territory into points?

If there were just six points between the teams entering the home straight, by the end one damning statistic could not be ignored:  Wales scored three tries, Ireland, none.

This was the same Welsh side that conceded 20 second half points to Scotland.  Even Italy breached their line. Yet Ireland, for all their possession and promise, could not find the moment of inspiration or the tactical combination to crack the crimson safe.

Without the sniping Conor Murray for the second half, Ireland lacked authentic conviction.  Schmidt's side were a depressingly blunt instrument.

4.   The Aviva date with England is diminished.

The word yesterday was that tickets for next Saturday’s meeting with England were exchanging hands for E7,000.

Suddenly that hyperinflation seems just a little absurd.

Of course, any meeting of Ireland and England is inherently visceral.  The fact that it is the tenth anniversary of the historic collision at Croke Park and that Eddie Jones’s side may be pursuing a Grand Slam ensures intrigue.

Yet, that Ireland are reduced to the roll of party-poopers rather than legitimate Six Nations contenders hugely devalues what was the hottest ticket in town.

5.  The Principality Stadium is rugby’s La Scala

A superior opera house, a clamorous cathedral of sound, a cacophonous basilica, an atmospheric and thrilling theatre of combat.  As a sporting bear-pit, Cardiff’s city-centre coliseum remains singular, riotous, a universe apart.

With the roof closed, it is transformed into a sealed and airless capsule, claustrophobic, suffocating, the most piercing and intoxicating playhouse in global rugby.

As Ronan O’Gara, remembering his days as a lead man in the Welsh hothouse, remarked:  “If you don’t get excited about playing in the Millennium Stadium, forget about it.”

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