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Friday 9 December 2016

Ireland pay the penalty with error-strewn defeat against Wales

Schmidt knows hosts England will test the mettle of his team

29 August 2015; Jack McGrath, Ireland, is tackled by Paul James, left, and Luke Charteris, Wales. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
29 August 2015; Jack McGrath, Ireland, is tackled by Paul James, left, and Luke Charteris, Wales. Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Where to now? Back to the drawing board? No way. Back to basics? For sure.

It is at times like these that the ‘hokey’ words of Declan Kidney come joltingly to mind.

To paraphrase: ‘We’re never quite as good as we think when we’re good and we’re never quite as bad as we think when we’re not so good.’ 

The winning habit is not that difficult to break, afterall, especially when Wales come to conquer with a grievance about what happened to them at The Millennium Stadium three weeks ago.

“We weren’t great in that game. But we didn’t have to be great because they were probably further behind in their rugby programme at the time,” considered Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

“On the very skinny margins that were evident (on Saturday), there’s not a lot between the two teams.”

On that basis, it was nothing short of suicidal for Ireland to offer up a half-dozen penalties to go behind 10-0 in the 25th minute, easing Wales into the driving seat.

Worryingly, Ireland never really came to terms with referee Craig Joubert as they handed up an unprecedented total of 15 penalties under Schmidt.

One of Ireland’s pillars of strength, their discipline, simply crumbled.

“When you concede a penalty count of 6-0 (early), you’re bound to come under pressure,” said Schmidt.

“The most penalties we’ve ever conceded in a game is 12. That’s really frustrating. It is something we pride ourselves on.

“If we concede 15 penalties, there are not too many test matches won when you concede that many.” 

England will bring a juggernaut of large moving men at Ireland next week as the World Cup hosts look to get their preparations back on track after what happened at Stade de France.

“I’d say we’re really going to have to be on our mettle going into the England game,” warned Schmidt.

“If we do keep a bit of consistency in our selection, then it will allow us a little bit more of a stepping stone.”

The sight of Keith Earls leaving the pitch on a stretcher and various bangs to Luke Fitzgerald, Peter O’Mahony and Richardt Strauss are reminders of how everything can change in an instant. 

“It’s a balancing act,” he said.

“You’ve got to get them game ready. At the same time, you don’t want to risk someone. It is a difficult conundrum.

“The starting team probably won’t be the same, but I would say we need some consistency as well.

“We need to get some cohesion. We were described as narrow. We probably did get narrow at times. We certainly ran out of width in our attack.”

Ireland were described as worse than narrow by Wales’s controversial  coach Warren Gatland.

“I don’t think Ireland play a lot of rugby,” he voiced.

“They are good at pressurising you, forcing you into turnovers and building a score.

“They’ve got a style and a game plan that’s been incredibly successful. It’s hard to move away from that and I can understand why you’d continue with that.

“They’ve got a formula that’s been successful for them.”

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