Sunday 17 December 2017

'We blame ourselves'

Centre McFadden admits no defence for missed tackles in Aviva defeat

ALL picture, no sound. That was the distinct impression given by centre Fergus McFadden of the immediate atmosphere, or lack of it, in the Ireland dressing-room minutes after Leigh Halfpenny kicked Wales to a 23-21 victory in the Six Nations.

"It was really quiet. You could hear a pin drop for 20 minutes," he said.

"It is not where we want to be, obviously, after getting knocked out of the World Cup by Wales. It was a bit of a grudge match. From them to win it at the end, the way they did, is horrible."

Ireland could have rightly claimed to be undone by inconsistent and downright bad officiating. The Grand Slam is gone. The Triple Crown is gone. The Six Nations Championship is still out there somewhere. Just about.

Wales' second-row Bradley Davies should have been red carded for a blatant spear tackle on Donnacha Ryan and Stephen Ferris received the same punishment -- a yellow card -- for a borderline legal hit in what turned out to be the match-winning penalty in the 79th minute.

Captain Paul O'Connell was not about to point the finger at Ferris. The nature of team sport is that you live and die by each others' actions. Individual moments are not separated from collective responsibility.

"I don't think it was the winning and losing of the game," said O'Connell. "I missed a tackle myself for their (third) try late in the game. If you are going to leave it (to) come down to one decision, pick out one player, you're not operating well as a team.

"We put ourselves in a position to win the game and we conceded eight points in the last five minutes. That's what cost us the game," he added.

Nevertheless, it was a gut-tearing way to lose even though Wales were the better team, had the majority of the ball and created more chances to edge the try count three-to-two.

Honesty is Ireland's only policy. Coach Declan Kidney, captain O'Connell and McFadden were asked for their opinions on the controversial moments. They opted to look at themselves instead of the officials.

"It is sport. You can move on next week. The best way to do it would be to bounce back and get a win over in Paris," said McFadden.

Indeed, the Leinster centre made a tremendous impact, piling into the tackles, comprehensively dealing with Wales' gigantic centres until he got too square on, too high on George North. Bigger men will make that mistake and suffer for it.

"I should have made the tackle. Simple as that. You miss one-on-one tackles at this level and you get punished. We did for that and the couple of other tries. We have ourselves to blame," he said.

This leaves Ireland bruised and battered, and blindside Stephen Ferris a likely candidate for a citing, along with Bradley Davies, ahead of the journey to the Stade de France.

From the outset, Bradley Davies, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, George North and Ryan Jones took it in turns to blast a path to the line, only repelled by Ireland's double tackle tactic.

There was nothing short of deplorable defence for Jonathan Davies' first try to allow a five-against-two overlap on the blindside, one of which was tighthead prop Mike Ross.

It was a minor miracle that Ireland only trailed by two points in the 27th minute, such was Wales' domination of the ball and territory. This was when Gordon D'Arcy's instant transfer to Tommy Bowe caused a rupture in the Welsh defence.

Fly-half Rhys Priestland and debut man Alex Cuthbert were badly aligned and Rory Best was there to touchdown. Sexton's conversion made it 10-5 to Ireland at the break.

When Sexton hammered over a 43rd-minute penalty, it took Ireland out to a two-score lead.

Their tails were up and they started to drive effectively at the Wales fringes.

This was reduced to nothing in rapid time when Halfpenny replaced the wayward Priestland of his kicking duties for three points and North steamrolled McFadden, sucking in the cover for his side-door pass to offer Jonathan Davies a straight path to the line.

From there, Bradley Davies escaped a red-card sanction, Bowe flew beyond North from Rob Kearney's splendid flat pass in the 68th minute to put Ireland five points clear.

Not to be outdone, North's power was a force that proved too much for three Irish defenders in the 76th minute and Halfpenny was there to land the winning penalty in the last minute.

Ireland move over with the also-rans Italy and Scotland. Wales move on to join France and England in the hunt for the Grand Slam.

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