Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ireland Grand Slammed by sheer Wales will

Rob Kearney after the game
Rob Kearney after the game
Sean O'Brien and Tommy Bowe fight for the ball

The Grand Slam is gone. The retention of The Championship is still on.

Ireland's video review session will confirm the multitude of chances that went astray in what will be a painful experience.

Quite simply, they had enough of everything they needed to be in line for a Slam. Instead, they will have to regroup, rethink and regenerate to keep the Six Nations trophy at Lansdowne Road.

They made the cardinal sin of getting on the wrong side of the super-sharp whistle of Wayne Barnes to eat twelve points in as many minutes in an incredible atmosphere at The Millennium Stadium.

It was always going to be a long haul back from there.

Wales coach Warren Gatland had been squeaky clean in his comments during the lead-up.

What he had to say behind closed-doors worked way better than the amateur psychology he can engage in at times.

"We knew how important it was that we start well," he said.

"If you look at the last couple of games where Ireland have won, they've strangled teams, particularly in the first 15-20 minutes.

"The start was important for us in building a lead, knowing Ireland weren't going to lie down and were going to come back at us.

"That happened. We had to dig deep for long periods of time as Ireland continued to attack us," said Gatland.

That was something of an understatement.

Wales made a super-human 289 tackles, second row Luke Charteris weighing in with a remarkable game-high 37, captain Sam Warburton 30 and Toby Faletau 24 against Ireland's top-man Robbie Henshaw with eleven.

The out-of kilter tactical kicking of Jonathan Sexton and a drop in his general standards fed Welsh confidence with their back three of the immaculate Leigh Halfpenny, the suspect George North and Liam Williams gorging on the aerial challenges in the first period.

The confidence that came from Ireland's winning streak enabled them to play their way back into the game with relative calm and composure in an intensely physical contest. "We weren't as accurate as we would have liked to have been and part of that was the Welsh pressure, part of that was a lack of continuity from us," said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

"When you know it's going to be such a fine margin, when those things escape you, you've got to fight your way back into the game.

"I thought we did that. I felt we did it really well," he said.

As the game wore on, Ireland came to terms with the Welsh physicality, despite leaking what turned out to be the decisive try to Scott Williams, against the run of play, in the 62nd minute.

The belief never wavered. An out-of-sorts lineout finally clicked into gear for the forwards to storm over for a maul-based penalty try to leave four points in it with 10 minutes on the clock. There was soon seven points between them when referee Wayne Barnes was positioned on the wrong side of the ruck to identify the fact Sam Warburton never released Cian Healy in the tackle. It wasn't the only thing the referee didn't see.

The final throw of the dice came from a five-metre lineout from Seán Cronin to Paul O'Connell in the 79th minute. The maul was set well. It reflected its' predecessor for the penalty try with Seán O'Brien again on the ball as the tail gunner.

It was moving with menace until grounded two metres out. No sanction. Just a turnover.

You could tell from the look in the blazing eyes of O'Connell, amplified by his animated arm movement signalling Wales pulled it down, and O'Brien that they could not believe Barnes had come to this decision.

The Englishman compounded this by failing to reward Ireland for a totally dominant scrum that spat Wales out and back in the last play of the game.



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