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Wales 22 Ireland 30

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: February 04, 2013

Comments (6)

IF Simon Zebo, Cian Healy and Brian O'Driscoll needed any encouragement, maybe they caught sight of the bespectacled woman in Cardiff city centre before the game, wearing a T-shirt that had emblazoned across the front: "Fancy a try?"

Ireland certainly did, running in three touchdowns before the slowest starters in world rugby managed to rouse themselves at the Millennium Stadium.

Another St Mary's Street drinker sported a top that had "Bring back the beat" on the front.

Unfortunately, Wales couldn't take their cue from him.

They lost their rhythm at the end of last season and there is no sign of it returning any time soon.

Their inability to respond to the sound of the gun is proving ruinous to their hopes of finding a way out of a losing run that is now up to eight games with France in Paris to negotiate this weekend.

They are a decent second-half team.

Over their last three games, they have drawn 10-10 with New Zealand in the final 40, beat Australia 6-5 and outscored Ireland 19-7.

But they lost every one of those encounters thanks to their frustrating habit of giving the opposition a head start.

If they were on Mastermind you just know they'd fail to answer every one of their specialist-subject questions before nailing all the general knowledge posers.

They'd fall short of winning but still tell everyone later about the number of positives they'd taken from the experience.

There can be no question the more deserving side prevailed in Cardiff on Saturday.

Wales were a study in ineptitude in the first half, with some players displaying a woeful grasp of basic skills. They were unable to secure quick possession, lamentably failed to get George North into play and were uncharacteristically weak in defence.

The gulf between the sides could be seen in microcosm in midfield.

Brian O'Driscoll had shown what he could do with barely ten minutes on the clock, when he engineered a try with skill so sublime that even the Wales players must have felt like applauding.

It was bordering on a Pele moment from the great Irishman, or a Messi surge of inspiration for those who like their comparisons brought bang up to date — a split second when O'Driscoll not only read an evolving situation in an instant but reacted quicker than anyone else and had the sumptuous talent to manufacture a score.

He first did well to hold a fast pass from Jonathan Sexton. As he accepted the ball, he spotted that Jonathan Davies had been lured momentarily out of position by Rob Kearney's dummy run.

Everything was then speeded up, O'Driscoll having the acceleration to secure a yard of space before sending out a perfectly timed pass to Simon Zebo despite not being able to see the wing because Alex Cuthbert was in his way.

You would imagine there are magicians who would have been unable to pull off such a trick.

Poor Cuthbert. So bemused was he that he neither put in a tackle nor blocked the pass, instead ending up in no-man's land, with his back to play. That is what genius does to mere mortals.

The contrast with Wales's midfield play was stark.

Davies and Jamie Roberts both ran strongly at times. But O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy outclassed them. The Welsh pair resembled a couple of street fiddlers who had bumped into Paganini and his twin brother.

Davies flung out two wild passes that ended up behind Cuthbert and in touch. If they were embarrassing then Roberts's late attempt to find a red shirt was very much out of the same play book.

Whether Cuthbert got his alignment wrong for the first two almost didn't matter. Wales, once considered world leaders for inventive back play, these days evidently struggle to put a few passes together.

Maybe Welsh coaches need to revert to developing skills instead of putting so much emphasis on bringing through power-based players.

Being physical is hugely important in modern rugby, but on its own it isn't enough. In an era of tight defences, the need for craft is greater than ever.

Ireland had it in spades — illustrated, too, when Zebo controlled a ball with the outside of a heel in the build-up to Cian Healy's try.

By contrast, much of the Welsh play was unimaginative.

That said, it would still be a surprise if Rob Howley gave his three-quarter line a shake-up, notwithstanding the presence of James Hook in the squad.

The coaches seem wedded to the idea that big is beautiful, so no-one should expect things to change any day soon. Perhaps a few more defeats might prompt a rethink.

Certainly, there ought to be changes up front.

Evidence, m'lud? Wales were trailing 30-3 when Justin Tipuric came on in the 44th minute. By the time he left the field they had cut the deficit to eight points.

Tipuric, of course, wasn't solely responsible for the course of the game turning. Ireland didn't help themselves by having two men sin-binned and there were also strong shows from Ken Owens — 13 ball carries in 28 second-half minutes — and Paul James off the bench and Toby Faletau, Andrew Coombs and Ian Evans for much of the second half.

But Tipuric helped inject tempo into Wales's performance to such a degree that it would border on stubbornness to leave him out for the game in the French capital on Saturday.

Wales's problem, of course, is that the Osprey plays in the same position as the captain, Sam Warburton.

But, ultimately, selection shouldn't come down to who holds the hand of the mascot.

Warburton is a fine player in his own right, who has played exceptionally for Wales in the past, but this season Tipuric has been in a league of his own.

The fatal mistake Wales are making, not just at openside flanker, is in believing that last year's form should be the dominant selection criterion for this year's team.

A schizophrenic display saw Wales bettered in close on every area of play before working their way back into the game with a second-half show that spoke volumes for their character, with Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell crossing for tries.

Halfpenny was the stand-out Welsh back by a considerable distance, while Coombs and Ian Evans worked tirelessly at lock and Faletau was as impressive as any forward on the field.

But Ireland were good enough to hold out, their defence outstanding.

Wales have now suffered five reverses in a row in Cardiff, their worst ever run at home.

They have lost their way as a side and France will be in no mood to help them rediscover their bearings.

Mark Jones has five days to inject guile, precision and dynamism into Wales's attacking game and Howley and Robin McBryde need to think long and hard about their selection.

Such a dismal run of defeats should have consequences.

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6 comments

  • KP287  |  February 05 2013, 12:04AM

    Can someone explain to me why we did not kick the 4 penalties we had, this was a potential 12 points and we would have had the ball back each time!!!!!!!! I don`t recall any other team not going for the points over the weekend. I am bemused at the tactics.

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  • Blackmamba  |  February 04 2013, 11:21PM

    I totally agree that Howley is incapabe of motivting the Welsh team or picking one come to that! surely it must have occured to the powers that be that he is out of his depth as head coach. I met him once at a social event, Im sure he has been through a charisma extraction machine. AS for Dan Biggar, not a good 10? I beg to differ, took apart the hapless Turks, ran the show against arguably the best team in Europe, Toulouse and had a great game against Leicester, yep, he must be dreadful!

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  • blacksmith  |  February 04 2013, 5:13PM

    I question howleys ability to pick a team, His selection down under in australia cost us, and he has not learned his record proves this 8 defeats straight off.

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  • C.Lion  |  February 04 2013, 12:25PM

    Rob Howley cannot motivate the team in the dressing room and Sam Warburton cannot motivate them on the field. I cant remember when Warburton last had a good game, he is only playing because he is captain. Too many basic errors, these are professional athletes! Hats off to Ireland, took the chances and deserved to win... We (Wales) havent become bad overnight, just lack leadership and motivation

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  • deridu  |  February 04 2013, 11:31AM

    Here we go,back to one half play. Biggar is not a good number 10, keeps kicking,into the arms opposition, one time he had ball he just stood there,waiting to be tackled. All the excitement gone from welsh rugby. European rugby is so much more evciting,( I`n sorry tp say ) What a difference Sunday`s game was...80 minutes thrilling stuff. Even England are still boring. I know many will not agree with me, but this is my opinion,after 50 years of support. No more going to internationals after this season,for me waste of money.come away , with not one thrilling feeling inside me.

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  • VISIONSKI  |  February 04 2013, 11:19AM

    Well what a poor first half performance from Wales ! This was a Lions front row but both Mathew Rees and Gethin Jenkins had very poor games and should seriously consider their position in the team. As a whole Wales were unable to generate any fast ball from the rucks and maul in the first half until those two were taken off. The media keep on about George North, he wasn`t in the game and as for Cuthbert his defence was diabolical and was ball watching for Irelands first try. Big men in the backs are useful in attack only if they are brought into play at pace. Taking the ball from a static position only made them look cumbersom. Is Wales Captain bossing his team when it matters I think not on this performance. Wales are constantly playing catchup and won`t win many games like this. The Welsh selectors should look seriously at the Captains role and influence in the first 15mins of play. Take nothing away from Ireland they were streets away from us in the first half. The senior players in our side didn`t perform Why?

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