What we learned today:
The Ireland rugby team must be sick of the sight of Wales. Yes, Ireland did beat Wales in the Millennium Stadium a couple of weeks ago but let us not kid ourselves. that Welsh team was predominantly fringe players seeking to impress. This test match today was the real McCoy. Wales came to Dublin to win evident by Warren Gatland’s decision to call on his big names for the contest. They duly delivered the win with a performance full of work rate and determination. Wales started the game with intent, dominating the gain line exchanges early door thanks in no small part to the performance of Justin Tipuric. The Ospreys players was simply outstanding from start to finish. His eighteen carries, ten tackles and numerous steals at the breakdown set the tone for the rest of the Welsh pack throughout. Wales deservedly scored their try in the first quarter after Gethin Jenkins scored from a Welsh forward maul. Ireland were struggling to get to grips with the tempo of the game but got back into the contest courtesy of a Sexton penalty and after concerted pressure on the Welsh line deep into first half injury time scored a try from the excellent Ian Henderson whose strength to hold off several Welsh players was impressive. Ten all at the break, a touch kind on Ireland given the dominance that Wales enjoyed.
The second half was extremely interesting. Ireland try as we might were losing the contact area. Wales were tigerish in defense similar to their 6N outing in Cardiff last March. Ireland soon started to look devoid of creativity to breakdown Wales and the aerial bombs were launched in the last quarter to gain field position. Ireland’s opponents in the RWC will have taken note of how Ireland were stifled today. The first line defense from Wales was extremely fast and gave Ireland little opportunity to launch the three quarters. The breakdown area is where Wales excel and today was no different as Tipuric, Faletau dominated in the area. Jordi Murphy and Peter O’Mahoney were ineffective and one wonders what Joe Schmidt will do to counteract the Wales tactics if other opponents start to deploy the same tactics.
For the record, Wales absorbed all Ireland could throw and won the contest with two Leigh Halfpenny penalties. The penalties conceded courtesy of Ireland indiscipline at the breakdown. Joubert was a hawk on the breakdown exchanges but was extremely lenient on offside rule. Both teams got away with plenty in this facet of play. Wales had to defend at the death but cue Tipuric, Lydiate to prevent Sean Cronin from grabbing a try which would have wholly undeserved. It was excellent defensive work holding Cronin up and cue the final whistle. Both teams will be benefit from the outing. Wales go into the RWC Pool of Death with a much needed morale boosting win. Ireland receive the reality check (which should have happened potentially against Scotland two weeks ago. Both teams need to refine their play behind the scrum but this will be addressed in the weeks to come. Good test match.
Ireland Squad Form:
Ireland squad selection has raised more questions than answers today. Keith Earls’ participation in the RWC must be in doubt after being stretchered off with concussion. Luke Fitzgerald’s big day at thirteen never materialized, starved of ball and went off late with a rib injury. Ireland’s RWC rests on Sexton. If the Leinster talisman gets injured, then Ireland can kiss goodbye to this tournament. Sexton showed glimpses of promise as he got rid of the pre-season cobwebs in his first start of the campaign. Murray had a solid outing, super footballer but would have liked his pack to be more dominant in the clearout. Ireland ruck ball was extremely slow, credit to Wales for that but Ireland failed abysmally to contend with the issue (throwing more players made more of a hindrance). The slow ruck ball resulted in Henshaw and Fitzgerald devoid of any platform. Henshaw was solid defensively. Earls prior to his injury was admirable in his defensive work but no go forward ball may have cost him his chance to shine for RWC selection. Rob and Dave Kearney excelled in aerial ball contests, looked for work but no real genuine gaps emerged from Wales defensively of note this afternoon. The Ireland prop situation looks intriguing. Who does Joe Schmidt bring? Healy obviously will go (albeit not 100% fit). The question mark is who from Moore, Kilcoyne or White misses out. White and Kilcoyne have had good cameo roles in this pre-season where as Moore who was hotly tipped to impress in the RWC is lacking fitness and now looks under pressure. Interesting selection week beckons and there will be at least four players who will feel aggrieved of their exclusion. Paddy Jackson, a players who seems to take one step forward, two steps back with the national side – several questionable game management calls during his cameo will not have impressed management. He is a lock for the squad but needs to step up his game if Sexton falters fitness wise.