Wednesday 18 September 2019

Joe Schmidt stung by Warren Gatland's narrow taunts

Ireland 10 Wales 16

Paul O’Connell on the charge during his last home game for Ireland
Paul O’Connell on the charge during his last home game for Ireland
Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, kicks clear despite the best efforts of Wales’ Dan Biggar during Saturday’s game at the Aviva Stadium
Sean Cronin attempts to force his way past Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar of Wales
A dejected Robbie Henshaw
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

As much as selecting the correctly balanced World Cup squad was uppermost in Joe Schmidt's thoughts in the aftermath of Saturday's defeat to Wales, there is plenty more for him to digest after he hangs up on the final phone-call.

Ireland tightened up their defence after shipping 21 missed tackles and three tries against Scotland, but it was their discipline that cost them against Wales. Their work at the breakdown didn't help.

But perhaps Warren Gatland's stinging critique of Ireland's attacking game will be of most concern to the Ireland coach as he contemplates his side to face England next weekend.

The Wales coach said he felt his side hadn't been troubled by Ireland over the course of the game and, while Schmidt wasn't in agreement, there are certainly things to address when his team had ball in hand.

Ireland's coach was more upset at his side's lack of discipline. They heard the sound of Craig Joubert's whistle more frequently on Saturday than in any other match during the New Zealander's tenure.

Interpretations

He wasn't entirely happy with the South African, or his assistants, but they will see him again in four weeks' time when he takes charge of the pool match against Romania at Wembley, so they had better get used to his interpretations.

While the focus of the coming days outside the squad will rest on who's in and who's out, the real business at Carton House will lie in ironing out the creases in time for the World Cup.

Schmidt is expected to name a strong side to face England at Twickenham and won't want to see a repeat of the problems his side encountered here.

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Ireland's World Cup schedule means that successive defeats would be a distant memory by the time they meet France in October, with Italy's hammering at the hands of Scotland helping to ease any fears about progressing from Pool D.

While the referee's performance didn't help Schmidt's mood, Gatland's pointed criticism of Ireland's attacking game stung too.

"I don't think Ireland play a lot of rugby," the Wales coach said. "They have been incredibly successful. I thought they were really narrow at times, a lot of players quite narrow.

"When they play that game effectively, using one-off runners effectively, and get some success from cross-kicks. That's what they are good at doing. They are good at pressurising you and forcing you into turnovers and building the score.

"But we didn't feel like we were troubled at all in the wide channels. They got some turnovers and some kick returns which put us under pressure but when they played with the ball in hand we didn't feel like we were under a huge amount of pressure.

"But they are a quality side. We just worked really hard on our defence in the last while. We used that as a focus because they blew us away in the first game. We needed to address that and I thought we did a good job."

Despite dominating territory and possession, Ireland only made one clean break and kept the off-loads to a minimum once again.

Too often, as the phases went on they became less and less dangerous, losing their attacking shape as a series of one-out runners were forced backwards.

Schmidt will ask a host of players to go again against England as he looks to build combinations for the big days ahead.

"We need to get some cohesion, we were described as narrow and we probably were at times," he said.

"We certainly ran out of width in our attack, although we could have scored twice in the opening 10 minutes with some pretty good width in our attack which obviously might have been overlooked.

"But, when you don't convert those early opportunities and concede a penalty count of 6-0 (in the first-half), then you're bound to come under pressure.

"We'll try to balance those selections and see how we go."

And yet, Ireland were a video referee's decision away from winning the game.

Sean Cronin didn't ground the ball on his final surge over the line, but despite having to play Jordi Murphy in the centre for 15 minutes after losing Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald, Ireland almost overcame first-class opponents at the death.

Attacking

There is no need to panic. Ireland's penalty count is unlikely to be repeated at the World Cup, while they have five weeks to hone their attacking game before facing France at the Millennium Stadium.

If they needed a lesson about handing world class goal-kickers points, they got it. Leigh Halfpenny knocked over a first-half penalty before more indiscipline and a creaky lineout handed the visitors field position from which they mauled their way over at the third attempt.

The eventual man of the match Justin Tipuric came up with the ball and Halfpenny converted, but despite being outplayed for large parts of the first-half, Johnny Sexton pulled a penalty back before Iain Henderson barrelled his way over from close range in injury time.

Sexton levelled the scores before half-time, but the second-half proved a scrappier affair, disrupted for long periods by injuries with Earls' needing lengthy treatment.

Ireland's ill-discipline allowed Halfpenny win the game, with their late surge proving too little, too late.

Tipuric's dominance at the breakdown will make for uncomfortable viewing for Jordi Murphy, while Henderson's barnstorming display will have had Devin Toner shifting uncomfortably.

Plenty to digest with one last warm-up to come.

IRELAND - R Kearney; D Kearney, L Fitzgerald, R Henshaw, K Earls (F Jones 64); J Sexton (P Jackson 64), C Murray (E Reddan 64); J McGrath (D Kilcoyne 61), R Strauss (S Cronin 51), N White (T Furlong 57); I Henderson, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony (S O'Brien 52), J Murphy, J Heaslip.

WALES - L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, S Williams, J Roberts (H Amos 61), G North; Dan Biggar (R Priestland 64), R Webb (G Davies 64); G Jenkins (P James 47), K Owens (S Baldwin 55), T Francis (A Jarvis 54); B Davies (L Charteris 54), AW Jones (capt) (J King 73); D Lydiate (J King 51 - 61), , J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Ref - C Joubert (South Africa)

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