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They were ruthless in what they did. They had that little sniff up front – Alex Cuthbert

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Mike Phillips of Wales tussles with Ireland players after Paddy Jackson scored Ireland's second try

Mike Phillips of Wales tussles with Ireland players after Paddy Jackson scored Ireland's second try

SPORTSFILE

Mike Phillips of Wales tussles with Ireland players after Paddy Jackson scored Ireland's second try

It said much for a Welsh performance that, having displayed all the punch of a pacifist sloth, the dragons only began to cough and splutter fire – and ire – when the curtain came down.

You could taste it in Warren Gatland's back-handed compliment to the stunningly simple game-plan that may as well have been delivered to him by IRFU courier this week.

You could smell it in the predictably puerile reaction of Mike Phillips to the enervation of his and Welsh manhood by the rabid Irish dogs of the forward pack.

This was one of those sporting contests – or, to be fair to Ireland's supreme game-plan and relentless physicality, a non-contest – that was predicated upon the prevailing moods of its participants at kick-off.

Ireland were riled into myopic ferocity, Wales were reduced to feeble submission. Hence, as a competitive event, this was a dull washout for all but the suitably frenzied, patriotic Irish support.

EMOTION

Gatland, privately, applauded Ireland's superiority; publicly, he suggested that it was they, not Wales, who paraded more febrile emotion from the off. That he was seized with surprise by both these turns of events is, well, surprising.

One of his key foot soldiers, Jamie Roberts, roundly disagreed with both Gatland's and Peter O'Mahony's observation that Ireland, as the sporting parlance has it, "wanted" it more.

"I don't think that is fair," he demurred. "You always go into a game of rugby wanting it. To hear those comments is quite frustrating. It was not a matter of each of us not wanting it. We were not good enough.

"It's disappointing because we came to play Ireland and to beat them on their own turf. But we haven't played well enough and Ireland have beaten us in the territorial game.

"In fact, in all facets of the game. In driving mauls, the kicking game, they were better than us. We were not good enough to win. It's frustrating and disappointing. It's very hard to take but that is sport."

That the coach was "surprised" at Ireland's tactics undermined his normally keen intuitive approach; indeed, it contradicted Roberts' own opinion.

"It was not a surprise," the good doctor diagnosed. "We knew what was coming having watched Ireland play in the autumn. Their work in the breakdown was very good. They were better than us."

Alex Cuthbert, whose game was utterly nullified by Joe Schmidt's tactical whitewash of his opposite number, maintained the theme of Welsh submission from the opening whistle.

"From minute one, they turned up," said Cuthbert, accurately alluding to mental, more than physical, deficiencies.

"They were ruthless in what they did. They had that little sniff up front, kept picking away, took that advantage, frustrated us a bit.

"We were having to play from deep. We will learn a lot more than we would from a normal defeat.

"Last year, it was a game of two halves. We kept going up and up and up in the second-half, but on this occasion we couldn't find our mojo and click as a team. It just didn't work on the day.

"I haven't had many of these losses. I've had losses from last-minute kicks and stuff, but this is completely different when you haven't been in charge of the game from minute one. Fair play to them, they turned up and played awesome."

How Wales react to this stunning setback, the most wounding in Gatland's tenure, will be fascinating to behold. They will be armed with a crumb of comfort; defeat to Ireland last season was no barrier to championship success.

"It's very important now that we analyse the game and we bounce back and don't point fingers," says Roberts, perhaps aware that an entire nation of angry fists are being shaken in their general direction.

"The great thing about the tournament is that we have a chance to rectify things very quickly."

Dan Lydiate agrees.

"The worst thing that you can do is panic. It didn't work today for whatever reason and I can't give you the answers right now.

"As long as we turn it around for the next game, that's the main thing. You've got to have confidence, otherwise what's the point in being here? It's hard to lose, nobody likes losing. We've got to dust ourselves down and put it right.

"It's hard to take a loss like this. We have a massive challenge in the rest of the games and we're certainly concentrating on sorting ourselves out, to put us in a position to do well in this championship.

"Gats is an honest guy. If you played well, he'll give you praise. If you don't play well, he'll let you know as well. We'll have a good sit down this week.

"There's discussion amongst us as well as players, we're trying to pick through the bones of it as much as we can. It's so soon afterwards, it's hard to know where to look. It's something we need to sort out."

No longer able to rely on mere brawn, will Wales have the wit and intelligence to do so?

Irish Independent