By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor in Wellington
ALL WEEK people in Wellington have been talking about how tight this quarter-final would be, how it was a 50-50 match, and that’s exactly how it turned out.
The scoreline might show Wales as the dominant side but it was far from a one-sided encounter. Ireland put pressure on the men in red, particularly in the first half, but Wales were undoubtedly the better side with the better game plan and that saw them home.
THE KEY REASONS BEHIND WALES WIN
1. BACK-ROW DOMINANCE
Sean O’Brien’s ability as a ball-carrier has been a standout factor of this World Cup, but Wales closed him down incredibly well, often putting two defenders on him. He was unable to get up his usual head of steam and that took the momentum from Ireland’s game and they had no Plan B to get over the gain-line.
2. POOR HANDS
Ireland’s back-line dropped too much ball and were unable to string a good sequence of passes together, stifling Ireland’s attack and often enabling Wales to gain possession. Their nine handling errors to Wales’ three really cost Ireland.
3. KICKING SMART
Both teams opted for the high ball on several occasions – Wales’ first one being caught by Jamie Robets and setting up the opening try for Shane Williams. As well as the up-and-under, however, Rhys Priestland kicked the corners well and kept Ireland pinned back, allowing Wales to close out the win.
4. DIRECT APPROACH
Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies ran straight at the Irish midfield and consistently got Wales over the gain-line, putting them on the front foot and allowing them to get their dangerous wide men involved.
5. DEFENCE, DEFENCE, DEFENCE
Ireland had their chances to score and had long periods camped on the Welsh line, but the men in red held firm and didn’t allow them to cross the line. Shane Williams even held Sean O’Brien up over the line such was the team’s commitment, and they focused on taking players out around the legs so that they couldn’t offload as easily while Ireland’s choke tackle, such a success in previous games, didn’t reap its usual rewards.
So Wales are through to their first semi-final in 24 years – have they got the game to go all the way to the final?