By Claire Glancy
“We were robbed!” “Red card!” “Heartbreaking.”
THOSE ARE just some of the messages that flooded my mobile on Sunday after Ireland’s 23-21 defeat by Wales. The talk all week had been that Ireland were out for revenge. They were going to right the wrongs from their defeat to Wales in the World Cup and get pay back for that Mike Phillips try in last year’s Six Nations.
But unlike many other Ireland fans, after this year’s showdown I was left feeling disappointed rather than angry. Had Ireland been cheated or did they throw it away?
Yes, Bradley Davies should have been given a red card. And yes, Stephen Ferris receiving the same punishment for a tackle that wasn’t nearly as bad was harsh. The tackling laws and punishments are a debate in themselves but undoubtedly consistency is key. That way the game itself and not the referee would dominate post-match discussions. The bottom line is that the laws are there for players safety and as aggrieved as we might feel when ‘our’ player is at the wrong end of the decision, the most important thing is that Donnacha Ryan and Ian Evans both walked away unhurt.
On that note, and to avoid Wayne Barnes taking up this entire piece, let’s move on.
Declan Kidney said Ireland should have gone for “the jugular” when they had the chance. After all, they led at the break despite Wales dominating possession and surrendered an eight-point lead in the second half. Also (before the tackle/penalty debate lures it’s ugly head again) when Ireland were ahead with two minutes remaining, how did they allow Wales to make 50 metres from the restart and get themselves into a penalty-scoring position anyway?
Throughout the match, Ireland were left short in defence – not through a lack of effort but due to an overzealous desire to compete for the ball at the breakdown. With the back row busy trying to steal the ball on the floor, it allowed Wales to create overlaps and subsequently, score tries. In contrast, the Welsh spread out in defence quickly and negated Ireland’s attacks.
That’s not to say there weren’t positives in Ireland’s play as they did dominate the lineout and were strong in the scrum. As someone said to me afterwards: “If you could put the Welsh back-line alongside the Irish forward pack that would be some team.”
The thing is that Ireland do have a talented back-line, but in comparison to Wales, they were too rigid. There was the notable absence of Brian O’Driscoll and without him they didn’t seem prepared to take the risks of their young Welsh counterparts like Jonathan Davies and George North, who are simply a delight to watch. For Fergus McFadden, pulling on the No 13 jersey came with a fierce amount of pressure and unfortunately, like Gordon D’Arcy inside him, he was completely contained by Wales.
Nowadays perhaps the reason Ireland fans get so frustrated by defeats like this is because the talent is there, we’ve experienced success and long gone are the days when we were happy just to put on a good show. All but one of Ireland’s starting XV against Wales will feature in this year’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals. So if that competition is supposed to be as close to international rugby as you can get, then why isn’t it translating on to the national side? Maybe it will after a couple of games but with a trip to Stade de France just days away, there isn’t much time to waste.