Good Win For Ireland

14 03 2010

By contrast to the feelings of disappointment and near anger over the England game, it is a pleasure to write about the Ireland versus Wales match. Admittedly it was not a perfect match either, with Wales in particular struggling to hit their straps, but it was entertaining nevertheless.

The pace of the game was good with ambition on both sides evident. After the tournament ruining loss in Paris 4 weeks ago for Ireland and a rather stuttering win over England two weeks back, this game was always going to be important to show that they are firmly back in the saddle. The margin of defeat at the end was emphatic as it was, but it could quite easily have been over double that had Sexton had his kicking boots on.

The performance of the Irish 10 was an interesting one. Sexton demonstrated in attack with ball in hand he offers far more than O’Gara ever has. Unfortunately for him it was a flawed performance as he only scored 3 out of 8 kicks at goal. In the modern game this is perhaps the single most important attribute a fly half can possess as it enable consistent pressure to be placed on the opposition. Combined with his misses against England at Twickenham, questions are bound to be asked, yet we hope that Kidney perseveres with him. There are far too few fly halves in the northern hemisphere who stand flat and attack the opposition as the ball is delivered to them. Put his kicking boots on him and you would have probably the most exciting young 10 in the North today.

There is little doubt though that having Tomas O’Leary inside him is a massive boon to the young Leinster fly half. For so long Ireland had Stringer in the 9 shirt causing limitations to the Irish game as a whole. Unlike Stringer, O’Leary offers a very dangerous running game along with excellent vision and passing meaning that suddenly there is an entirely new dimension to Irish rugby. Man of the match today, O’Leary fully deserved the plaudits he received at the end.

Also immense for Ireland was Paul O’Connell who carried brilliantly, marshalled the line out well and on more than one occasion provided a telling pass. In the past, the Compulsive Hooker has been ever so slightly sceptical of his star qualities due to his intermittent inability to dominate big games, yet today he was brilliant and the engine room of the Irish pack.

We were also pleased to see Keith Earls come through and play so well prior to his late replacement. There are very few players around in the north today who are in the same league when it comes to broken field running. Earls, however, had a polish to his game this afternoon which has not always been present before, and bar a sliced kick did not make a single mistake.

For Wales the situations is more complex. They have on paper one of the most talented back lines in the world, yet only click for short periods of any given game. Upfront they are a little lightweight, yet possess Lions players in Williams, Rees and Jones and enough other quality to ensure a steady stream of ball. Indeed they enjoyed far more possession and made less than half the number of tackles that Ireland did.

Somehow it is not working and after a poor 12 months the first questions are being asked about Warren Gatland and his team. There are still enough positives to ensure their continued survival for sometime yet, but a way must be found to turn these bursts of inspired play into something more enduring.

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