Wednesday 21 February 2018

The first time the absence of Brian O'Driscoll was really felt - Five things we learned from Ireland's defeat to Wales

Michael Verney

Ireland's search for a record-breaking 11th successive victory and the third Grand Slam in their history came to a halt when they succumbed to Wales 23-16 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff today.

No Irish side has ever enjoyed such success and despite the defeat coach Joe Schmidt will have learned some invaluable lessons, particularly with the World Cup coming down the tracks later this year.'s Michael Verney looks at five things that we have learned from today's defeat going forward.

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CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 14: Warren Gatland the head coach of Wales looks on prior to kickoff during the RBS Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at The Millennium Stadium on March 14, 2015 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Gatland wins the Battle of the Kiwis

Billed as the Battle of the Kiwis, coaches Warren Gatland and Schmidt waged tactical warfare from the stands but it was the Welsh supremo who prevailed on this occasion.

Joe Schmidt steered Ireland to an unlikely Six Nations title in his first year in charge and having lost just three tests from the 16 in charge world rugby's form side were narrow favourites to prevail.

The calls for a more expansive style of rugby were warranted as the Irish struggled to gain a foothold in the game with Wales matching and overpowering them in the line-out and scrum.

The limitations of our game plan were exposed by Gatland who deserves huge praise for helping his side catch fire at the business end of the tournament once again while Schmidt will no doubt regroup and tinker with his sides' style of play in anticipation of Scotland and further challenges ahead.

Playing on the edge is the thinnest of lines

Ireland have been lauded for their defensive stability under Schmidt but in the first 40 minutes in particular there was a defensive malfunction, conceding 12 cheap points in a helter-skelter opening period.

The Irish defence had been easily the most miserly in the Six Nations coughing up just three, 11 and nine points thus far against Italy, France and England respectively but fell foul of Wayne Barnes' whistle on far too many occasions.

Gatland's side took advantage of indiscipline at the breakdown and Ireland coughed up a massive 15 points from penalties in the first-half alone.

The introduction of Cian Healy should have spurred Ireland closer to the Welsh but instead his over-eagerness to impress and win his place back cost some valuable possession and penalties which quenched Irish momentum.

CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 14: Rhys Webb of Wales puts in a box kick during the RBS Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at Millennium Stadium on March 14, 2015 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Keeping in the game despite being dominated

The sign of all good teams, be it Kilkenny in hurling or Kerry in Gaelic Football, is to maintain a foothold in a game despite under-performing and even in defeat Ireland managed to hang in there despite playing sub par.

The Welsh were in complete control for the majority of the opening half but Schmidt's side still managed to keep their composure and stay within touching distance.

Ireland's trailed by a scarcely-believable 12 points after only 13 minutes but somehow found the ability to recover and trail by only six at the break.

Having camped on the Welsh line for the majority of the third quarter without getting the all-important try, overcoming the deficit was a bridge too far but importantly going forward we have become a real force in test rugby and can stay competitive despite not always playing to potential.

Wales will have their say in the World Cup

Beaten by England in their tournament opener, the Welsh were written off in some quarters but kept their Six Nations aspirations alive with a courageous display.

Having narrowly defeated Scotland in Murrayfield before trumping Les Blues in Paris, they came into this tie chasing their first victory over Ireland since 2011 and dominated for large parts of the contest.

Captain Sam Warburton and full-back Leigh Halfpenny, in particular, were inspirational and there can be no doubting the sheer class of the players at their disposal and the live chance which they have in this year's World Cup.

The Welsh were a bit of a sleeping giant so far this season but under the influence of Lions tour-winning coach Gatland they look well placed to have their say come next weekend, and in the autumn.

Brian O'Driscoll

Lack of attacking flair

Today was the first real time the absence of the iconic Brian O'Driscoll has been felt as Ireland struggled to get the try they so badly needed in the game's third quarter.

After multiple phases the unflappable Welsh defence came out on top as the Green Army struggled to break the try-scoring line, and it was hard not to think that the genius of O'Driscoll would have conjured something special.

As hard as they tried none of the attacking Irish attackers were able to wriggle over for the five points which could have completely turned the game on its head.

On a day when a lot of things didn't go right for Jonathan Sexton, Ireland need to show that they're more than a one-trick pony and more attacking nous is needed in order to make a real mark later in the year.

Online Editors

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