What you need to know about Ireland’s 37-27 win over Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin
Ireland 37-27 Wales Talking Points
Ireland v Wales games are traditionally tight and this one was no exception, the excitement lasting until the final minute. Yet when reflecting on this Six Nations game, the hosts should have been comfortable winners at the Aviva Stadium.
They completely dominated the territory (75%) and possession (69%) statistics but were unable to make their advantage tell consistently – and maybe even lifted their foot off the pedal slightly after scoring the bonus-point try midway through the second half.
They should have had a far greater advantage than the 15-13 one they took into the break such was their dominance, but it was their own errors that proved costly and they only had that lead after Bundee Aki had stretched for the line in the closing minutes of the half and Johnny Sexton had slotted the conversion.
Related: Six Nations bonus points
Ireland started the second period on their mettle and secured the try bonus after 55 minutes with scores from Dan Leavy and Cian Healy.
That Wales then narrowed the gap to seven points through Aaron Shingler’s 62nd-minute try was a testament to the visitors’ desire and resilience for Ireland surely should have been out of sight by that point.
And even when Conor Murray slotted a penalty to take Ireland’s lead to ten points, Wales hit back with a Steff Evans try.
Jacob Stockdale, who had touched down at the start of the game, had the final say with an interception try as Wales looked for a winning score and that summed up just how crazy this match was, ebbing and flowing in all directions. And it was brilliant to see two sides committed to playing attacking, ball-in-hand rugby
Two things we learnt – Ireland are making hard work of winning; Wales are an extremely difficult side to kill off as they keep coming back! In fact, they were unlucky not to finish with a losing bonus point in the end.
Here are the big talking points from the game…
Johnny Sexton didn’t get any points on the board until the 35th minute, missing three kicks at goal in succession for the first time since 2010, when he was off-target with four for Leinster against Scarlets (stat courtesy of Stuart Farmer!).
The Ireland fly-half may have been controlling matters with ball in hand but he didn’t look all that comfortable when putting his boot to it, perhaps a symptom of the back injury that caused him to miss part of the captain’s run the previous day.
He found his groove towards the end of the half, slotting a penalty and a conversion to give Ireland that 15-13 lead.
Yet it wasn’t just Sexton’s kicking that made life difficult for Ireland. Their inability to look after the ball in Wales’ half saw several other opportunities wasted as the visitors were able to snaffle possession and clear pressure – or create pressure of their own.
After 20 minutes, Ireland had 70% possession and 81% territory but were only 5-3 up! That was as much down to Ireland’s own errors as anything Wales did.
Ireland started the second half with a bang – much like the fireworks that greeted the teams’ arrival on the pitch before kick-off – and the increase in intensity brought tries for Dan Leavy and Cian Healy within the first 15 minutes. The forwards were able to overpower Wales from close range and their maul became a more prominent feature of proceedings.
As Warren Gatland said: “What Ireland are good at is squeezing sides and they squeezed us today.”
It is the statistics that show why Ireland should have won this fixture far more comfortably as they dominated every area: 166 ball carries to Wales’ 74; 457 metres made to Wales’ 251; 93 tackles made to Wales’ 175. No wonder Alun Wyn Jones used the word “sapping” afterwards.
The game was still in single digits for minutes when Johnny Sexton fired a beautifully crisp, long, flat pass in front of Wales’ rush defence, missing out two team-mates and finding the grateful hands of Jacob Stockdale on the wing. It made the speed of the defensive line in red an irrelevance and Stockdale had a clear run for the line from five metres out to score his seventh try in seven Tests.
In the lead-up to Ireland’s second try Sexton produced another sublime pass, releasing Cian Healy with an inside ball, and then one of his trademark loops with Chris Farrell gained his side a few extra metres before Bundee Aki stretched for the line.
Sexton’s boot may have been off-target early on but his distribution was en pointe. We saw his feisty side, too, as he looked to barge over from close range, making a couple of metres to help set up Cian Healy’s try, later won a breakdown turnover and took a quick tap penalty rather than opting for the safer option of the posts.
That tap may have come to nothing but the intent was there and Joe Schmidt revealed Sexton had highlighted at half-time that Wales were turning their backs at penalties and in that instance he was clearly looking to take advantage.
Paying the penalty
Within ten minutes, Wales had given away as many penalties as they did in the whole match against England. By half-time, Aaron Shingler had matched that Twickenham tally (two) on his own.
Related: England 12-6 Wales match report
Wales could not get on the right side of referee Glen Jackson, particularly at the contact area, and that meant they could not build momentum. They conceded none penalties across the 80 minutes to Ireland’s four.
Gareth Davies showed a lovely sidestep to score his try but in reality it was Wales’ only try-scoring opportunity of the half. They were second best in all facets and struggled to retain possession long enough to break down the green wall or create chances.
Much of the discussion in the build-up was of the return of three Lions for Wales and the absence of three Lions for Ireland. Yet it was a couple of lesser-known names that so impressed here.
Chris Farrell, who was Man of the Match, may have been playing in only his third Test but he made notable impacts in attack and defence, his work-rate matching that of Dan Leavy in the back row. Leavy was another who popped up all over the pitch, offering himself as a carrier and making telling tackles – he topped Ireland’s tackle charts with 12 while Farrell was second with eight.
Andrew Porter may not match Tadhg Furlong’s skills in open play but he did a fine job at the scrum to show that Ireland are building more depth to the squad, just as Wales have done with the form of Josh Navidi and Aaron Shingler in this championship. It was Navidi who provided the scoring pass for Shingler in Dublin.
Spare a thought for Rhys Patchell. He started the first two games at fly-half but was left out of the match-day 23 for this encounter following the return of Dan Biggar.
Yet he was still in Dublin as a travelling reserve and took part in the warm-up – and then, once the match squad returned to the changing room for their final preparations, Patchell had to do a series of sprints and fitness drills on the pitch.
Ireland – Tries: Stockdale 2, Aki, Leavy, Healy. Cons: Sexton 2, Carbery. Pens: Sexton, Murray.
Wales – Tries: G Davies, Shingler, Evans. Cons: Halfpenny 3. Pens: Halfpenny 2.