Monday 18 December 2017

O'Driscoll laments defensive errors in latest tale of woe

The Irish players were right to regret their high error count, says Peter BillsAnother World Cup, another Irish rugby captain consumed by thoughts of what might have been.

Lens 1999, Melbourne 2003 and Bordeaux 2007 . . . Ireland certainly do despair at Rugby World Cups. And Brian O'Driscoll's face revealed all the familiar pain and angst of an Irish captain at a World Cup.

Ireland chose this day of all days to produce comfortably their worst performance of the tournament. Predictably, it meant that after all the hope and hype, they will make another early return home.

"I am bitterly disappointed, we had high hopes," said O'Driscoll. "We felt we were in good form but just got outplayed on the day. We made too many unforced errors and gave away a couple of very soft tries. At the business end of World Cups you can't afford to play below par. We did that and paid the price.

"It is a massive disappointment but you have to suck it up when you haven't performed on the big stage. Personally, I won't get this opportunity again and that really sucks. But life goes on."

It does but Ireland will forever kick themselves for chucking away a great chance of World Cup glory and there were no consolations.

"When you give your heart and soul to something and it doesn't work out it is disappointing," said Declan Kidney. "But they are good men, they will bounce back. I think once Wales got that early try it was difficult. We had a few too many turnovers, a few too many concessions for this level. I thought we had got back into the game at 10-all, we didn't seem to be in a bad place at all at that stage. But when they got to 15-10, they pinned us back with good field positions and it became quite difficult for us to break out."

Ireland's try, cleverly finished off by Keith Earls early in the second half, tied up the scores. And it gave Ireland the chance to raise their game and take charge. But they couldn't do it. They kept on making mistakes and became more and more desperate. Ronan O'Gara never showed the control of previous games. And the great smothering blanket of a defence mounted by Wales blotted out any remaining hope.

O'Driscoll admitted that Ireland were hurt by not making more of their first-half pressure, which brought them only an O'Gara penalty. "Then we coughed up some very easy tries and you can't afford to do that at this level. We shot ourselves in the foot by doing so.

"You are not promised anything just because in the last four games we had produced two decent performances and two okay ones. You are not owed anything, you have to go and earn everything you get in Test rugby. But today we were off the pace and we go home because of that."

Wing Tommy Bowe summed up the mood throughout the Irish camp. "I am absolutely gutted; we are a very disappointed bunch of boys. To have played so well against Australia, we were confident coming into the match.

"But we have no complaints at the outcome. Wales came at us with an intensity that caught us on the hop. And their defence was so good. We were camped on their line for so long but just couldn't seem to get over the whitewash. We coughed up the ball a few times too when it was important we held onto it. But credit to Wales, they played very well. We had them under the cosh at times but we didn't get the scores we needed. And you could see them building in spirit from that. The try Mike Phillips scored clearly lifted them a lot."

Hooker Rory Best admitted: "This was a massive opportunity for us and it wasn't for a lack of effort that we failed to take that opportunity. But we were beaten by a better team on the day. In bits and pieces we probably played quite well. But we couldn't get going, Wales really had our number and you have to give them credit."

That was true to a degree. But Ireland made it oh so tough for themselves with some awful defensive errors. All three Welsh tries, by wing Shane Williams after just two minutes 14 seconds, scrumhalf Mike Phillips after 50 minutes and centre Jonathan Davies 13 minutes later, owed a lot to Irish mistakes.

Keith Earls lost possession on the Welsh 22 which started the move that led to Williams' try. Phillips exploited an unguarded blindside to get the second which put Wales back in front at 15-10 and then Davies smashed through awful attempted tackles by Cian Healy, Eoin Reddan, Keith Earls and Rob Kearney to score the try that made it safe for Wales.

They could even afford to see Rhys Priestland hit both uprights with penalty attempts.

But one thing won the match for Wales more than anything else. Their fantastic defence. In all, they made 141 tackles and coach Warren Gatland hailed what he called "a brave, courageous performance" that took Wales into next weekend's semi-final.

"The boys knew we were either going home on Monday or we were here for the rest of the tournament," added Gatland. "That was the motivation. These guys have worked so hard on and off the field. And there is no fear factor among the youngsters. We have a nice balance of size, speed, youth and experience.

"No team has worked as hard as we have. We have been getting up at five in the morning to go training and in some sessions we have had guys throwing up through the physical stress. These guys went through some real pain but when you do that it brings a team together and galvanises that side."

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