This was a really interesting game on paper, because it was essentially a potential title decider. However, on the pitch, it was an even more interesting game, for several reasons.
Beginning with Ireland, they started really well. They were passing the ball around with pace, and trying to find the gaps. One early occasion of this was when they worked the ball to one side of the pitch, drawing Wales across, and then feeding it across to the other side of the pitch where the space was. We know Wales are strong in defence, so maybe this was part of the strategy of breaking it down and finding gaps.
Their first try came from the Welsh finding themselves moving towards covering the wing option, Andrew Conway, which was good, but it left open full-back Jordan Larmour, who was just inside Conway. and he was able to nip through to score. It was only the first sign of what might happen in the match.
Their second try was really well worked by Tadhg Furlong, with the prop pushing a defender out of the way and forcing himself over. It was really good concentration from him, and for a prop, who isn’t necessarily paid to score tries and get the ball over, it was a really good piece of play.
In the second half, the Irish began well, and got their third try through a maul, but the key factor that contributed to it was sheer Irish might. To be fair to Wales, they were positioned on their try line, but they seemed to lack some confidence at times in the second half. Ireland, however, defended well and kept the attack going throughout, making Wales work really hard for every yard available.
That is not to say that their performance was completely error-free. Certainly, as the game was coming to a close, it was obvious they wanted the bonus point fourth try, but it’s credit to Wales’ defence that they didn’t get it until very late in the game. However, when it did come from wing Andrew Conway, it was well-deserved and well-worked. Wales got dragged into the middle of the pitch and left the wing open. It was relatively easy for Conway to score and no more than his personal performance merited.
Ireland will feel very happy with two wins from two, and some good individual and team performances, and right now, I think they are the team to beat, and the front runners for the Championship.
As for Wales, they came into this one on the back of their opening day win against Italy, and this match looked like being their toughest test of the tournament. They were OK to start with, and their opening try was a moment of good play, with their two half-backs combining to score. First, Dan Biggar broke through, before the Northampton Saints fly-half offloaded to scrum-half Tomos Williams, who went over to score. A very notable mention should also be given to captain Alun-Wyn Jones, who did some great work in setting up Biggar initially.
In the second half, they looked very nervous, with Ireland definitely on top, and in all honesty, the home side stealing lineouts summed this up. The Welsh defence, a key part of their good form over last year’s tournament and the World Cup, had obvious cracks in it, and Ireland were happy to exploit it when they could. Some of their passes from lineouts were loose. However, the defence was better after the third try. Ireland didn’t find life easy, however, when centre Robbie Henshaw went off and was replaced by wing Keith Earls, the home side did have three wingers on the pitch, and three good ones at that (Earls, Jacob Stockdale and Conway), so that gave them a bit more freedom and creativity at the back.
Their try from Justin Tipuric meant nothing in the end, but it came from a maul after a lineout. It was a good try though, and was a moment of good pressure from Wales, but in the end, they came up short against an Ireland side showing real signs of being champions come the end of this year’s tournament.
Both sides failed to really get any momentum going in the first half in all honesty. It was a windy day in Dublin, with Storm Ciara beginning her rampage across the country, but neither side could really get going by their own standards. This was perhaps because they cancelled each other out to an extent, with the talent and pace in their squads going face to face.
However, I think both sides will see positives and negatives in the first 40 minutes. Ireland will be happy that they had two tries on the board, but Wales would be pleased that they had something to play for in the second half, and had managed to find a gap in the Irish defence – something Scotland were unable to do much last week. Both full-backs, Jordan Larmour and Leigh Halfpenny, had good halves and controlled their back lines well.
In the second half, it was still a bit cagey, with the scrums dominating the game, but there were moments of brilliance from both sides. In the end, it was Ireland who managed more of them than Wales.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
There were a number of notable performances from Ireland. Andrew Conway was superb on the wing, Number 8 CJ Stander was outstanding all game, but there was one player who I thought was at the heart of everything good about Ireland, and that was full-back Jordan Larmour. In the first half, he scored the first try, was absolutely everywhere, controlled the defence, and helped the attack. The second half wasn’t much different, and it was a really good performance from him.
There is a break next weekend for the tournament. In two weeks time, Ireland are on the road for the first time in this year’s tournament, heading to Twickenham to face England on Sunday afternoon. Wales, meanwhile, are back at the Principality on Saturday evening, when they host France.