What’s hot and what’s not from the final round one game of the 2016 Six Nations
Draws are often dull, drab affairs, but this one in Dublin was hugely entertaining and incredibly tense. Both sides shook off the shackles, putting any suggestions that they are boring or predictable in the shredder as they launched wave after wave of attack, be the players in green or red. Ireland took a 13-0 lead thanks to Johnny Sexton’s boot and a try from Conor Murray but Wales hit back with a Taulupe Faletau touchdown and nine points from Rhys Priestland, who replaced the injured Dan Biggar early on. The two kickers exchanged penalties in the final ten minutes and while both teams tried to break the deadlock late on the scores remained level. This draw certainly opens things up in terms of the race for the Six Nations title – and expect to see more running rugby from both sides throughout the championship.
Adventurous spirit – Both Ireland and Wales demonstrated a real intent and adventure in attack. Ireland’s kick-dominated game that drew such criticism last season was nowhere to be seen, with the most significant high ball of the first half coming from the boot of Liam Williams and reaching the hands of Dan Biggar. Instead, Ireland used CJ Stander, who was named Man of the Match on debut, to make significant inroads in midfield before spreading the ball wide and finding half-gaps to sneak through, with Robbie Henshaw and Simon Zebo particularly prominent.
Wales, too, showed more variety in their attacking game, mixing the hard carries of Jamie Roberts, Alun Wyn Jones and Rob Evans with long passes to the wings where there often seemed to be space for the likes of Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams (a late addition to the starting team in place of the injured Gareth Anscombe) to put Ireland under pressure.
The Wales scrum – The pack in red looked to have the edge from the first scrum and that advantage delivered them a try at the end of the first half. They earned penalties from a succession of 5m scrums, Taulupe Faletau going over off the last one. Even if the No 8 had not scored, a penalty try was no doubt coming Wales’ way. The young trio of Rob Evans, Scott Baldwin and Samson Lee held their own, with Gethin Jenkins able to offer considerable experience off the bench.
Defensive authority – Given all the attacking exuberance, it was strong defensive performances that limited each team to a try apiece. Jared Payne marshalled Ireland’s back-line extremely effectively in defence and Robbie Henshaw looks like he’s trying to replicate the breakdown feats of Brian O’Driscoll with his willingness to get involved at the contact area. In the red corner, Jamie Roberts, Taulupe Faletau and Tom James were just a few of the Welshmen who made important tackles.
Pressure tells – A catalogue of Wales’ errors led to Ireland’s try. First Rhys Priestland knocked on as he tried to pick up a poor Gareth Davies pass. Ireland kicked the ball on and Devin Toner charged Davies down as he attempted to clear from the resulting Wales lineout. Priestland collected the ball but made little ground with his clearance – and if he’d reacted better he would simply have touched the ball down for a 22 dropout. Instead, Ireland had a lineout and a few minutes later had touched down through Conor Murray. Priestland did shake off those mistakes to slot important kicks, though.
Slow starts – Warren Gatland has often bemoaned his team’s inability to start matches strongly and Wales did themselves no favours here. They allowed Ireland to gain territory through multiple phases in the first 15 minutes and while their line wasn’t breached in that period they did concede six points from the boot of Johnny Sexton. With the disruption then caused by Dan Biggar’s departure with injury, it took Wales a while to settle and they found themselves having to come back from 13-0 down. While they did fight their way back into the game, they need to play with the intensity they showed in patches for the full 80 minutes and particularly in the first 20. Had they started better, they may well have edged this match.
5 – The number of line breaks made by Ireland, compared to none by Wales.
23 – The number of ball carries made by CJ Stander, seven more than Wales’ top carrier Liam Williams.
21 – The number of tackles made by Jamie Roberts and Taulupe Faletau, more than any other players.
95 – The number of metres made by Liam Williams, the most by any player.
Ireland: S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls (D Kearney 73); J Sexton (I Madigan 76), C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt, S Cronin 76), N White (T Furlong 64), M McCarthy (D Ryan 64), D Toner, CJ Stander, T O’Donnell (R Ruddock 49), J Heaslip.
Try: Murray. Con: Sexton. Pens: Sexton 3.
Wales: G Anscombe; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, T James; D Biggar (R Priestland 22), G Davies (L Williams 73); R Evans (G Jenkins 53), S Baldwin (K Owens 64), S Lee (T Francis 58), L Charteris (B Davies 62), AW Jones, S Warburton (capt, D Lydiate 73), J Tipuric, T Faletau.
Try: Faletau. Con: Priestland. Pens: Priestland 3.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Man of the Match: CJ Stander (Ireland)
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