Ireland 10 v Wales 22 8th October 2011
I think it was after Ireland beat Australia, when I read Eddie Butler describe Ireland as playing with a ‘passionate fury or a furious passion’. This morning, our time, Wales beat them at their own game.
The Welsh came out hard – Jamie Roberts won a crucial up and under and wave after wave they moved closer to the Irish line until Shane Williams slid over in the corner from a simple two-on-one five metres out. The conversion mattered, I think, because then Ireland turned down three penalty opportunities before eventually doing the sensible thing and taking three points. By that time, they had already pounded away unrewarded for twenty minutes and shortly after Leigh Halfpenny booted over one from long range to keep the seven point margin.
Why did Ireland not take the boring option and kick for goal to bring it back to 7-3? They picked O’Gara over Sexton after all. Perhaps the blow of conceding a try so early on was a knock to the ego or confidence of the side and they wanted to smash themselves over and prove to Wales they were in charge. Anyway, it was the wrong decision.
Wales were fantastic in defence – they couldn’t hold onto the ball for most of the first half but were up quick every time, commited the right numbers to the breakdowns, rarely got on the wrong side of the referee and had their glory moments – little Williams holding up over the line, Warbuton stealing ball on the floor, Roberts immense.Their scrum slowly wrestled dominance. Halfpenny, Roberts, Jonathan Davies making line breaks. The second half was brilliant – to come back from Keith Earls’ try showed a lot of character and obviously all that fitness work paid off. Rare to see an international team complete the game with so few subsititions – one change at lock cos of injury and then Hook on at the end for Priestland when the game was already won.
Above all I think the key contests were won in the front row, backrow and half back. Heaslip made to look foolish on a number of occasions, Stephen Ferris and O’Brien not able to make the kind of impact with ball in hand that they had in the group matches. Adam Jones scrummaged Cian Healey off the park. Above all, Mike Phillips proved what a world class number 9 he is – making the right decisions, quick hands, strong running and his try was something else, exploiting a blindside very few players in world rugby would have been able to make anything of. Conor Murray looked out of his depth in comparison. And then we come to O’Gara. I always felt Wales had a better chance of winning with him at 10 – they really pose more problems with Sexton. I’m not saying O’Gara is not a good fly-half, and I know he’s played well this tournament (the competition has made both of them perform better) but he was not the man for the job in this game. Against South Africa it would be wrong to pick Sexton. Against Wales they needed to move the defence around quickly and spring a few surprises. RoG came out alright defensively – I expected Roberts to run at him and expose him but it didn’t seem to happen – but he lacked control: dropped balls, passes not going to hand, kicks going too long and, above all, he never posed much of threat with ball in hand.
I’m glad Wales won, I like their rugby; finally they are finding the balance of quck running rugby, which suits their players, and the safety options that Gatland likes. However, I feel – and it’s only a feeling – that Ireland would have a better chance of beating the tri-nations teams. Even in victory, Wales missed some kicks and don’t play out games like Ireland can do. We shall see.