What's hot and what's not from Wales' 2017 Six Nations match against Ireland
Two tries from George North helped Wales to victory in this high-energy Six Nations game at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. The performances of both teams showed how important this match was – Wales looking to prove they’re a good team after heavy criticism, Ireland aiming to keep their championship title hopes alive.
A Jamie Roberts try from a chargedown in the closing minutes made the scoreline look more comfortable than it was for the hosts, but they were deserved winners. Their defence held firm throughout, preventing Ireland from crossing the whitewash, and while the visitors did put on pressure, it was in patches rather than consistently across the 80 minutes – something that wasn’t helped by Johnny Sexton’s sin-binning at the end of the first half and Conor Murray struggling with an arm injury before being replaced.
High impact – The intensity and physicality of this match was high from the off. The power that attackers took into contact was matched by the force with which they were met by defenders; big impacts across the field.
Both teams were looking to play flat in attack and the line speed of the defence gave players little room to think. The defensive lines rarely buckled despite the pressure, Wales’ especially when Ireland camped in their 22 for long periods in the final quarter.
Every area of the game was hugely competitive – the kick-chase, the high ball, the breakdown, the lineout… It was fast and furious, ferocious and frenetic – and, above all, an enthralling Test match.
Due North – Getting the ball wide was a theme for Wales from the start and that is how they scored the first try on 20 minutes. From a lineout, Scott Williams broke through the middle, passed the ball back to Rhys Webb and the scrum-half sent a long pass out to Leigh Halfpenny, who sent George North careering down the wing and through Irish defenders to touch down. The Principality Stadium is regarded as the best in the world for atmosphere and the roar after that try demonstrated why.
That try was just part of an impressive all-round performance from North. He scored a second soon after the break, Webb putting him over in the corner after a solid driving maul from five-metre lineout, and he generally made ground with every carry. It was the type of display from the wing that Wales fans have been waiting for.
Wayne’s game – Referees often come in for stick – a questionable decision here, a missed infringement there. Yet there was little fault to be found with Wayne Barnes’s performance in Cardiff. He was clear in his communication and decisive in his calls, quick to pull out the yellow card when Johnny Sexton killed the ball as Wales got close in the corner at the end of the first half. Ireland fans may point to the decision late in the second half to penalise Robbie Henshaw for obstruction as Ireland set the driving maul going five metres from the Wales line and Barnes was almost apologetic making it – but it was a fair call. He was equally firm with his decisions against Wales. In summary, Barnes was key to making this such a compelling game.
Risky business – The Irish defence were up so fast in defence and Wales were playing so flat that red passed to green on a handful of occasions. Not on purpose obviously and the pass wasn’t always taken – but an intercept try certainly looked on the cards in the first 20 minutes. Wales scrambled effectively enough to prevent Ireland getting across the line – but playing closer to the breakdown, and paying more attention to opposition players’ positions, could have prevented those scares for the hosts and their fans.
Friday night travel chaos – Yes, Friday night kick-offs are good for TV; they tend to generate the biggest viewing figures and take the championship to a wider armchair audience. But what about those fans who actually travel to matches? Queues on the M4 into Cardiff started around lunchtime. Trains back to London after the game didn’t exist. Hotel prices were sky-high. Those who endured the slow traffic and significant dent to their wallet no doubt enjoyed the game, but if these Friday night fixtures are to become more common, thought must be given to the travelling supporters. Simply working with rail companies to put on later trains would be a start.
10 – Penalties conceded by Wales compared to four by Ireland.
110 – Metres made by Simon Zebo, the only player to hit three figures.
325 – Tackles made during the game, 170 by Wales and 155 by Ireland. Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric were the top tacklers with 18 each.
9 – Lineouts won by Justin Tipuric. Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton won the other two on Wales’ throw.
Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, S Williams (J Roberts 67), L Williams; D Biggar (S Davies 79), R Webb (G Davies 67); R Evans (N Smith 67), K Owens (S Baldwin 72), T Francis (S Lee 70), J Ball (L Charteris 63), AW Jones (capt), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty (T Faletau 67).
Tries: North 2, Roberts. Cons: Halfpenny 2. Pen: Halfpenny.
Ireland: R Kearney (T Bowe 79); K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (P Jackson 19-27, 79), C Murray (K Marmion 46); J McGrath (C Healy 59), R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner (I Henderson 63); CJ Stander (P O’Mahony 63), S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Pens: Sexton 2, Jackson.
Yellow card: Sexton (38min)
For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here.