Dublin. Where Wales were dumbfounded – as indeed were most of us – by the utter control exerted by the Irish. Indeed so shocked were the dragons management in my view that they forgot themselves, much as the gobsmacked-in-a-very-bad-way Capello had done for England in a recent (footie) World Cup. They forgot they had to do something – send on subs. (Hook/Tipuric!) This had nothing whatsoever to do with #BODgate… and everything to do with freezing whilst getting simply battered.
So as I write, all manner of hostelry in the fair city, from the corporate schmoozer-zones to the dodgiest of boozers must surely be taking an almighty hammering, as elated locals and bemused visitors take stock. I imagine Martyn Williams was slumping back disappointed into a comfy chair and reaching for a consoling pint as he tweeted, but the former back-row maestro summed things up neatly enough when he dinked out the following;
Didn’t see that coming. Hats off to the Irish. Totally dominant.
Agreed; in every respect. But how? Yes we’re aware of this suggestion that Wales may have just the one way of playing and are therefore susceptible to being ‘found out’ (though I’ve never really accepted this.) Yes there was a whole lot of emotion, a whole lot riding on this one, with most of it pointing to positive inflammation of Schmidt’s Green Army. And yes Ireland got off to a flying start last week. But surely a tight and tense and fulsomely impassioned affair would ensue? Full of fire and endless demonstrations from all sides of the phenomenon rugbyfolks simply call ‘dog’? But no – well certainly not from the Welsh – only the Irish howled. Wales were numbed, muzzled and blunted in everything they did, from almost the first moment to the desperate last.
Perhaps it’s ungenerous to put it this way – as though denying the Irish some rewarding chunk of their triumph. However I do so because it strikes me that the utter absence of Wales from this match was more remarkable than anything. From the reds there was no penetration, no threat, barely any phases, in truth, despite the gallumping nature of their backs. But worse, perhaps, there was no sense that any of these things were likely. The 26-3 score-line in no way flattered the home side.
Ireland meanwhile were superbly organised and composed. Sexton was close to immaculate with his control, through tactical hoofing and through his mixture; he absolutely built the framework for his side and this, consistently, together with outstanding blanket defence eased – and I do mean eased – his side to a straightforward win.
In the first half Trimble was darting bravely and covering or slamming into contacts, O’Driscoll was steady and safe rather than hugely notable but around the breakdown O’Mahony in particular was a giant. Wales panicked and infringed and hurried things or lost the ball before they could execute their own hurrying. With O’Connell predictably battering and Irish hands on the ball almost obscenely quickly, Welsh possession never felt secured. Ireland’s did. Without blasting open the Welsh lines they emphatically held their own. Typically Sexton put them somewhere that felt good and then they asked those questions of the Welsh attack. Sharpish enquiries that Priestland never looked able to respond to.
Two final things. Gatland’s back row is very very good at snaffling athletically and with purpose around the breakdown. Today, the dominance of the Irish in this area – Warburton’s specialist subject – was both most striking and decisive. With barely believable constancy that much-vaunted back row of Wales was marmalised. Penalties came and were largely gratefully accepted by Sexton.
Secondly, there was the lack of response from Wales. Priestland is not either brilliant or raw gutsy enough to single-handedly gather in a real game. Phillips is looking close to his natural end. Combine this with the failure of Gatland and his backroom staff to act – by (probably) sending Hook and Tipuric on at the 50 minute mark – and well… you might find yourself in the same place as Capello. Somewhere faintly embarrassing.
In Edinburgh England strolled to a win against a Scotland side barely deserving, on this form, of a #6nations berth. Though the pitch and the weather were awful – both conspiring to drastically reduce the odds on a free-flowing display from the visitors – a rout seemed on after about five minutes. Vunipola B again looked ridiculously comfortable as he legged it unopposed through the mud, sharing the egg casually pre-tackle. Burrell again emphasised the power and explosiveness of his running – scoring a fine try in the process. Even the previously disappointing Twelvetrees broke confidently and played with oxygenating freedom. Farrell kicked poorly but still ran the game with something of a smirk.
Lancaster will on the one hand be delighted at a victory without conceding a point and on the other be exasperated his team somehow conspired to avoid the seven or eight tries that were surely available. But England do look like they have a certain invention about them now, what with Brown and May and Burrell all looking un-Englishly, ‘naturally’, expansively brisk.
Scotland though, are gone. Simply not competing at the same level. Their game against Italy seems their only hope of validation, never mind meaningful points on the board. Too early in this Calcutta Cup Laidlaw had missed two kickable penalties and you knew Scotland simply could not afford that waste. The problems seem frighteningly universal, leaving Scott Johnson an unenviable task; it seems the best he can hope for is to sit out the storm and try to keep chins up. Whether he has made this more difficult through the summary dispatch of former skipper Kelly Brown, who knows? If there are egos at work in his camp as well as issues with available talent, the man’s in awful … deep… shite.
On a lighter note Brian Moore’s continuing support of a certain shall-we-say de-spiritualized *religious icon continues apace. I would have bought him a pint – and necked one – if he’d have slotted the phrase ‘Is this a dugout which I see before me’ into commentary. Aah well, time yet.
* For the uninitiated – possibly literally – @WelshDalaiLama has a drinking game via twitter. The boy Mooro (roped in) has been gratuitously quoting Shakespeare to draw those who indulge into downing their poison.