Sides could not be separated, Jamie Roberts' iron-clad shield, work-to-do with the Warburton-Tipuric experiment and Rob Evans' performance are all dissected
The most ‘drawy’ draw, in the history of draws.
Ireland 16 – Wales 16. You would think that those numbers alone would adequately define a draw. 16 – 16 would seem a sufficient indicator of equality of performance, particularly in a game, such as rugby, where the largely ‘odd’ numbered scoring makes a draw highly improbable. But the parity between Ireland and Wales, on Sunday, extended way beyond the scoreboard and was buried deep within both teams’ key performance indicators. Wales and Ireland scored a try each, a conversion each and three penalties each. Nothing too statistically surprising there.
Yet, both Ireland and Wales also had a 100% scrum completion and an 89% lineout completion. They also both had impressive tackle completions separated by just 1%. Both teams also won 98% of their rucks. It was as if a rugby egg was produced in a fallopian tube, when the teams were announced mid-week, then fertilized at 3pm on Sunday afternoon and the identical twins were born 80 minutes later. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the birth.
Jamie Roberts’ nuclear defence.
Jeremy Corbyn’s talk of the UK reducing its nuclear Trident programme needn’t be a concern. A potential replacement could simply be the cloning of Jamie Roberts, a thousand times, which would deliver largely the same impact. His defensive effort against Ireland was insane. 21 tackles at inside centre is weapons grade defending. It was as fine a defensive display as I have seen from a 12.
Make no mistake, these weren’t run of the mill leg tackles – these were tackles that made Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne feel like they had strolled into a Polar Bear enclosure in a neglected Ukrainian Zoo. Perhaps the greatest compliment to Roberts’ tackling is that he outshone Taulupe Faletau – who also made 21 hits. But world-class backrow forwards are expected to reach those numbers – centres aren’t. Some may point to Wales not making a single clean break against Ireland but until Roberts is told to play otherwise, he is doing his job. Awesomely.
Rob Jenkins is a superb player. This is not a typo.
Many were surprised that Rob Evans was selected ahead of Gethin Jenkins for the Ireland game. Despite a very good past 12 months at the Scarlets, it seemed that the seniority of Jenkins would command the number one shirt in this year’s opening Six Nation’s fixture. However, Evans was immaculate. Immaculate to the point where Rob Evans became Gethin Jenkins.
They are very similar players. Very mobile, good skillsets and an ability to operate at the breakdown like a fourth backrow forward. Gethin Jenkins still has a lot to offer Wales during this Six Nations and the three test tour to New Zealand, but so does Rob Evans. A 60/ 20 minute playing between either looks very promising for Wales during the next six months. Well played Rob Jenkins, I mean Rob Evans.
Warburton and Tipuric didn’t quite work.
Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are hugely impressive opensides – yet very different. Their selection alongside each other seems as logical as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. However, the practical realties, against Ireland, were very different. Warburton, at blindside, meant that he was roughly five to six yards further away from every breakdown situation than he would have been at seven. Five to six yards may not seem like a lot, but in terms of elite open-side play it equates to roughly one second.
A second in which Warburton isn’t able to set his feet wide, lower his back, drop his shoulders and clamp onto the ball like a three-year-old on an Easter egg. Tipuric is also a hugely effective openside and his link play, speed and ability to penetrate the wider channels is hugely desirable – his performance, particularly late in the game, was sensational. But Wales need Warburton’s turnovers more than Tipuric’s ability to break in the thirteen channel. To have both would be the perfect situation, but Warburton remains the priority.
Well played Rhys Priestland
Rhys Priestland had an impressive game against Ireland. The fact that he had a 100% goal kicking rate, a part of his game with which he has struggled historically, was particularly pleasing. But above all Priestland deserves praise mostly for playing so well in amidst a Welsh rugby public that simply doesn’t appreciate his quality, nor contribution.
It is difficult enough playing test rugby when you have the support of your country, to do so amongst sneering comments must be a nightmare. Priestland has had a good season and has been a stabilising force at Bath – where stabilising forces are in short supply. Whether at 10, 12 or 15 Priestland hasn’t put a foot wrong for Bath. Barring a key drop goal, he did the same for Wales against Ireland and it should be recognised. Well played Rhys Priestland.