Nothing Without Labour. This was a very decent Ireland performance, backboned by the key ingredient which was missing last week — a little bit of aggression and a more forthright attitude in contact.
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Ireland were unburdened by greatness or expectation and, with most of the country expecting a defeat, they gathered themselves and produced a performance which was more than sufficient to deal with a Welsh side who on the day were a little bit shy of competence. The scoreline doesn’t do justice to Ireland’s energy or their ability to absorb Welsh pressure.
This was a good win.
It is, however, still Joe Schmidt’s game plan. There is a little bit more lateral movement, a fraction more adventure and a nod to Jordan Larmour, granting him licence to do whatever he wants. From Andy Farrell’s point of view there was, I suppose, recognition of the need to improve and that duly came. Ireland had a broader range of vision, even if they did not entirely embrace risk. So this performance was a riposte to some of the critics, myself included, who had taken out the cudgels after the Scottish game.
In the post-match press conference, Farrell could give a three-word reply to his critics — two of those words being ‘the critics’.
This was a much-needed win and the team will have garnered some self-belief. On the back of that performance, you sense that mid-table is not where Ireland will end up. It was far from the complete performance and there were imperfections. While it is not yet fillet steak, it’s not the hamburger we were served up last week.
Wales were not exactly lightning in a bottle and they have missed four or five starters — Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies being the most obvious. While their passing was accurate and fluent Wales lacked the guile and nous of their two outfield Lions.
The contagion from the Saracens debacle continues. First man out the door in their clear-out was their centre, Nick Tompkins. The Welshman looked like a world beater against Italy but was badly found out against Ireland. Anyone who misses five tackles in the middle of the park won’t be getting another go unless Wayne Pivac is in a good mood.
The Welsh centre was made to look exactly what he was — a Saracens squad player who should have nailed Jordan Larmour as he stepped back inside for Ireland’s first try.
In terms of cynicism and illegality, Ireland came a long way down the list against a Welsh side that were offside all day long and got away with it. Their performance at the breakdown too was sugar-coated with illegality and, for a second week in-a-row, 50,000 people had to suffer the vagaries of perception of another referee who was fooled once too often by what the Welsh were doing. The penalty count of 10-6 against Ireland tells you that.
In the 45th minute, when Josh van der Flier managed to get over the line after a trick play and a quick throw, Romain Poite declared to his TMO what we all knew all along: "I have no idea."
Ireland got suckered at scrum time and in all the contestables, Wales were just a little bit too crafty and too illegal. The Frenchman, as is his wont, just let it go.
Poite’s intrusions and errors of omission did not, however, ruin what was a cracking test match and one which was still in the melting pot until the 75th minute, when Andrew Conway capped a superb performance with a great take and finish in the right-hand corner at the Havelock Square end. At this stage, Wales were bathed in the desperation of defeat and their body language told you even before Conway’s try that their day was done and they could not cope with Ireland’s consistency of purpose and ability to apply pressure.
As I was going through my old notes, I had an asterisk. Beside it were the words, ‘Furlong cruising’. To my mind, in the very recent past, Ireland’s vaunted tighthead had not exactly been digging up trees on the pitch. That was not the case yesterday.
In the 30th minute, after an unexplained knock-on from a Welsh lineout win where Alun Wyn Jones won cleanly and gave a reasonably sympathetic feed directly out of the lineout to Tomos Williams. A well-executed exit but inexplicably Williams had picked up the Hogg virus and knocked the ball on.
Ireland had a scrum five yards from the Welsh line but with the referee’s predilection for penalising the attacking side, you could not be certain Ireland would come away with points. Furlong went to work on what he does best and he put the power on Wyn Jones. The scrum collapsed and the penalty was given to Ireland.
Ireland had the free play and played the ball out of the scrum where Bundee Aki took a good inside line. Fresh from his good work at the scrum, Furlong took the next recycle and with O’Mahony in tow stayed on his feet long enough to ride the tackle and stretch over for a great try.
When Furlong is in the mood Ireland are pretty much unbeatable.
The Welsh challenge came between the 45th and the 55th minute and Ireland rode their luck here on a number of fronts. We are 9,148 kilometres away from Wuhan but the Hogg virus struck again in the 55th minute as Hadleigh Parkes dropped the ball forward as he went over the line.
At that stage, Poite called Johnny Sexton aside to warn him about Ireland’s repeated infringements and it is here where the ref-link is worth its weight in gold. Poite told Sexton to warn his side not to infringe in the red zone any more. Sexton asked if could he say something and Poite responded in the affirmative. Sexton said: “Romain they’re stealing the breakdown, can we have permission to go for the poach over the seal?”
The Frenchman almost gave his assent for that request. Wales had been stealing the breakdown all day and it was almost impossible to go for the poach. It was brilliant from Sexton, who is learning nicely the nuances of being captain.
Ireland’s captain outplayed Dan Biggar on the day — a player that he has had a couple of titanic tussles with over the years. Sexton’s performance was the key to victory and he constantly pinned the Welsh deep into their own 22 with some very clever grubbers which left Leigh Halfpenny with very few options and the pressure applied kept the Welsh in a position where they could not express themselves. This was a positive move and Ireland produced a performance when they needed to.
They have unseated the Grand Slam champions and exorcised, to a degree, that performance in Cardiff last March.