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Ireland standing tall once again


Devin Toner is tackled by Richard Hibbard as Ireland push forward against the Welsh at the Aviva Stadium

Devin Toner is tackled by Richard Hibbard as Ireland push forward against the Welsh at the Aviva Stadium

Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Devin Toner is tackled by Richard Hibbard as Ireland push forward against the Welsh at the Aviva Stadium

Two down and three to go. The two that are down have been squared away without the concession of a try. The only injury of note over the course of those two games has been to replacement Dan Tuohy, who has a suspected broken forearm. Bad luck that it happened so soon after he came on for Paul O'Connell, who had run out of gas. Worse again that Tuohy's form has been so good.

Nevertheless, for Ireland to have reached the first staging post in such good condition is what is known in the trade as a result.

The squad will convene in Clonmel in midweek for a review of what has happened so far, and what needs to happen for them to be three from three coming out of Twickenham in a fortnight. Some things they know straight away: England will be fitter than Wales, who had a couple of players, in captain Sam Warburton and loosehead Gethin Jenkins, who were short of game time because of injury, and another couple – like Adam Jones and Richard Hibbard – who looked like they are carrying a bit too much ballast.

That's a fair handicap to be lugging around in one unit alone, and Ireland, by comparison, looked like they could have kept going a good while longer. Of course it helps when you're going forward, and like the first half of this fixture in Cardiff last year, the Ireland eight were mostly going in the right direction. "We're certainly gathering confidence because the big team that Wales brought today were always going to be difficult to play against," Joe Schmidt said afterwards.

"I would say though that they didn't quite get into the game and there are a number of their guys who will benefit from having played. There are such small margins that if you're not match fit then it's really important that the guy who's competing for your spot is ready to step in. So we wouldn't be getting carried away. We've just got to roll our sleeves up and keep working away."

Unlike Wales, who Warren Gatland said had hoped to be a whole lot better in their defence against Ireland's lineout, everything Ireland prepared was cooked to perfection, from the set-piece to the ball in air. To begin with, Wales gave the home team 17 opportunities out of touch – an unusual statistic in this fixture – and with 16 of them successful Ireland were frequently on the front foot. Their aerial policy, even more important in the conditions, was something Rob Howley wished Wales had copied in the second half. The only thing that came up short for Ireland was the opportunity to attack off more scrums.

"We had wanted to play off the scrum and that was disappointing," Schmidt said. "We played off 90 per cent of our scrums last week against Scotland but it's very hard to do that against Wales. It was less than two per cent that were played off between Wales and Italy last week. It just makes it very difficult to get that sort of game going when you don't have access to that ball because it's great ball to attack off."

Warren Gatland's issues were more fundamental than the quality of scrummage ball they had at their disposal.

"I think if you look back at the last couple of games (between the teams) there was probably a lot at stake emotionally for the Irish team today," he said. "That's something we need to look at. If you go back to the final game of the Six Nations last year there was a lot of emotion involved for the Welsh players as well. That plays a huge part in the result and the performance but we weren't good enough today – we weren't at the races.

"We'll take a long hard look at ourselves and some of areas we need to improve on. Sometimes you can change personnel to freshen things up a bit, you can also give players an opportunity to redeem themselves. We'll look at that over the next couple of days."

France in Cardiff are next on the list for Gatland, while Ireland are already looking to London, where plenty of their players have had good experiences.

"A win in Twickenham is massive, it doesn't matter how many times you've done it before," Paul O'Connell said. "They're an incredibly physical side – obviously having worked with Andy Farrell in the summer (I've seen) they have brilliant line speed. They really do put teams under pressure with their line speed and I think they're growing in confidence all the time.

"It's going to be incredibly difficult for us. When we saw the fixture list, even though the second game was against the champions, I think always in the back of our minds we were thinking we'd be in a very good place if we were two from two after our two home games, but the competition gets a whole lot harder when you go to Twickenham. It's going to be a big step up."

Irish Independent