Updated:Feb 7, 2023 12:33 pm
Wales 10 vs 34 Ireland
Ireland laid down an early marker for the championship with a confident and clinical performance in Cardiff, ruining Warren Gatland’s homecoming. The Irish blew Wales apart in the first half, dominating the contact zone and creating relentlessly quick ball. It was ruthlessly efficient from Ireland, who were helped by the Welsh’s terrible discipline, allowing them easy field position from where they could dictate the game. Three first-half tries effectively sealed the game by halftime, and Ireland did somewhat take their foot off the gas in the second half, something they can’t afford to do against France next week. However, if you had offered Andy Farrell that scoreline before the game, he would have bitten your hand off. Ireland may be a vastly superior side, but a trip to Cardiff is always a challenging proposition. Ireland turned the cauldron into a cakewalk.
Warren Gatland confessed himself ‘not that disappointed’ with his side’s performance. This could be interpreted as extreme optimism on Gatland’s behalf or an indicator of where Wales are in relation to Ireland. Likely the latter. It wasn’t all doom or gloom for the Welsh; they improved significantly in the second half, showing a greater intensity in defence after being alarmingly passive in the first half. They managed to carve out several opportunities throughout the game but lacked Ireland’s accuracy and composure. There was a hesitancy to Wales, something Ireland ruthlessly exposed. One area Gatland will have been quietly furious with was his side’s discipline, which repeatedly handed Ireland easy territory, particularly disappointing considering the amount of experience in the Welsh side.Embed from Getty Images
Ireland flew out the blocks and had their first try inside three minutes after Welsh ill-discipline allowed them some easy field position. Caelan Doris was the man to power over after James Ryan had made a sizeable dent in the phase before. Ireland kept their foot on the throat and opted for a tap and go next time Wales were penalised in their own 22, a sign of Ireland’s intent. This time it was James Ryan who went over, supported by his second-row partner, Tadhg Beirne. Wales couldn’t live with Ireland’s speed of ball, which in turn provided Ireland with easy yards against a retreating defence. Ireland’s ball presentation was excellent, while their forwards carried hard and dynamically, using their footwork to attack weak arms; Wales missed 33 tackles in the match. Crucially, Wales struggled to make any dent at the breakdown, despite picking two jackaling experts, Justin Tipuric and Jac Morgan.
Wales finally managed to enjoy a spell of possession and could even have scored a try if it wasn’t for some excellent covering work from Hugo Keenan, who beat Rio Dyer to a loose ball over the line. Biggar got Wales on the board shortly after with a penalty, which was immediately cancelled out by a Sexton penalty. Wales looked to be growing in confidence, if unable to penetrate the Irish defence, but James Lowe provided a killer blow, intercepting a pass from Dan Biggar and showing good gas to run in for Ireland’s third try. Another Sexton penalty nudged Ireland further ahead, and when Jac Morgan was brilliantly held up over the line by Andrew Porter, you felt there was no way back for the Welsh.Embed from Getty Images
Wales started the second half brightly and scored their first try of the tournament through Liam Williams after some neat hands from the debutant Joe Hawkins. Wales’s defence improved in the second half, getting off the line much quicker and making more dominant tackles, allowing them to slow down the Irish ball. Ireland were somewhat sloppy for a period, conceding a string of needless penalties, albeit they were able to cope with the Welsh attack relatively comfortably. Wales had plenty of possession, but dropped balls and missed passes killed off any promising attacks, and Ireland finished stronger. A concerted spell of Irish pressure led to Josh van der Flier sauntering in under the posts and sealing the bonus point. Mack Hansen almost put the cherry on the cake in the last minute after latching on to Ross Byrne’s crossfield kick but was denied by an excellent tackle from Owen Williams.
For Ireland, it represented a job well done, even if they will have been slightly disappointed with aspects of their second-half performance. In the first half, they demonstrated why they are the number one side in the world, showing a machine-like efficiency in the Welsh 22. Ireland’s defence was equally excellent, able to quell any Welsh momentum. Jonny Sexton orchestrated the attack excellently, while Ireland’s speed of play didn’t suffer from the absence of Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum half. It was an excellent team performance from the Irish, with James Ryan and Caelan Doris standing out in the pack; the former’s clear-out work was especially destructive. The back three also had excellent games, with Hugo Keenan, in particular, standing out.
There’s hard work ahead for Wales, and things won’t get easier with a trip to Murrayfield next week against a Scotland side brimming with confidence. Gatland will have been heartened by the opportunities his side were able to forge while there was a greater fluency to some of their back play. Gatland will know he can fix Wales’s ill discipline but might be worried about how leggy some of his players looked in the final fifteen minutes on Saturday. Wales missed too many tackles, which will be an area of concern for defence coach Mike Forshaw. Similarly, Wales struggled at the breakdown, with neither Jac Morgan nor Justin Tipuric being able to slow down the Irish ball effectively. There was plenty of industry from Wales, with Liam Williams (minus the yellow card) and Rio Dyer looking dangerous ball in hand, but they lacked a cutting edge. A week is a short space of time to fix a multitude of problems, but Gatland is right in being optimistic; there is potential in this Welsh side.