Saturday 16 December 2017

Major opportunity lost as superb Welsh slam door shut


Hugh Farrelly

A KEY part of Ireland's strategy going into this World Cup quarter-final was to prevent Wales gaining early momentum. They failed spectacularly. Wales pounced for their first try inside three minutes after Keith Earls turned over the ball in contact and Ireland were in chase mode from then on.

The Welsh worked the phases superbly, running onto the ball with real purpose (Jamie Roberts' charge had Donncha O'Callaghan reeling) and when they shipped it wide, Shane Williams was able to squeeze over in the right corner, Rhys Priestland knocking over a fantastic conversion.

Stung, Ireland responded by dominating possession and territory for the rest of the half. The pressure told, with a penalty count stacked heavily in Ireland's favour but, with the swirling wind making conditions tricky, Ireland opted to kick for the corner three times rather than go for the posts.

Hindsight decrees that this was a major mistake as, for all the pressure exerted, Ireland were only able to extract three points for their troubles through a Ronan O'Gara penalty.

Wales went in at half-time in the better frame of mind, knowing that their defence had the measure of Ireland's attack, and a monster penalty from the halfway line by Leigh Halfpenny had given them a 10-3 advantage and psychological edge.

Ireland re-emerged intent on getting back into the contest and, when Earls added to his try-scoring exploits with another superb finish, followed by an exquisite conversion from O'Gara, it felt like the momentum had shifted.

Instead, the Welsh took a stranglehold on the game and, try as they might, Ireland were unable to trouble the scoreboard again.

Wales struck for two tries, the excellent Mike Phillips spotting space on the blindside to strike for a brilliant individual score and Jonathan Davies charging over -- scarcely able to believe his fortune as the Irish fell off the tackles.

There was no way back from there. Jonathan Sexton and Eoin Reddan came on to change the tempo from half-back, and Brian O'Driscoll and the back-row desperately sought gaps, but the Welsh defence was magnificent and, though Irish effort never waned, their World Cup was over long before the final whistle.

They can have issues with Craig Joubert's interpretation of the offside rule, which the Welsh took repeated advantage of, and the South African awarding a knock-on against Ireland when they were five metres from the Welsh line chasing a critical score, but Ireland can have no complaints about losing to a superb Welsh side who played with better focus and skill.

Wales can kick on from here by sticking to their principles. For Ireland, this was a major opportunity lost and they are left with four more years to try and come with a solution to their ongoing World Cup problem.

IRELAND -- R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls (A Trimble 70); R O'Gara (J Sexton 55), C Murray (E Reddan 55); C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell; S Ferris (D Leamy 74), S O'Brien, J Heaslip (D Ryan 74). Try: Earls; con: O'Gara; pen: O'Gara.

WALES -- L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, S Williams; R Priestland (J Hook 77), M Phillips; G Jenkins, H Bennett, A Jones; L Charteris (B Davies 40), AW Jones; D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau. Tries: Williams, Phillips, J Davies; cons: Priestland 2; pen: Halfpenny.

REF -- C Joubert (South Africa).

Irish Independent

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