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So another weekend of preseason is over. Ireland ventured to Cardiff with sore arses after having them kicked in all areas of their lives. If they went on twitter – arse kicked, when they got back to camp – arse kicked. So would this lead to added aggression on the pitch against a Welsh side that is or was number 1 in the world, with their tales up and with the added pressure of it being Warren’s last home game as Welsh leader?
The answer was, yea kind of.
Ireland showed up angry, moved quickly and worked hard. There were still some holes but in comparison to last week this was massive. I was expecting this performance last week, but if a bishop Brennan style kick was needed. This was a decent response.
Let’s look at a few stats and then look at the game itself.
Ireland ran for 314 metres (Wales 378), Ireland had 41% possession (Wal 59%) for 36% territory (Wal 64%), Ireland missed 12 tackles of 154, Wales missed 22 of 96, Ireland coughed up 8 penalties to Wales 10.
So let’s look at a few of those stats. Ireland had less ball, less space and had to make more tackles. But they got more return from less ball which is an old Ireland trait. Ireland used to be very efficient with the ball which sent a message to the opposition that Ireland are never out of a game unless you are 3 score clear. This was the first time in a while that Ireland showed confidence to not have the ball. It was a calm confidence they had against Wales which is important to have. A positive!
If we look at the missed tackle count, it is night and day. Against England Ireland missed 21 tackles in the first half alone, this week it was 12 all game. Yes it is a different team, but it is about building confidence and this was massive. Ireland also had some big players making a lot of tackled too. Beirne had 10 without missing any (don’t believe the hype of people saying he had a quiet game), Henderson had 16 without missing any (see comment about Beirne), Rory Best had 13 tackles with 1 missed (in 28 minutes – captain fantastic), Jordy Murphy also had a big game with 12 tackles and non missed. Another positive!
So if we look at the metres run by the team, this is a direct result of space being generated, either by a spark of genius opening space or from the pack opening up the game. Both happened. Against England, Kearney was the highest runner at 40 metres. Against Wales, Ireland had 5 players in double figures with Addison at 76 metres from 10 runs, Conway at 78 metres with 10 runs, Stockdale with 65 off 8 runs and Aki at 34 metres off 11 runs. The back 3 are important to see on that stat but Aki also had a stormer of a game breaking lines and finding space. Great to have that gas in midfield.
Ireland beat 22 defenders to Wales 12, offloaded 9 times, won 10 from 10 scrums and lost 1 lineout of 7.
So all of this is massively positive. This is the performance that puts the oil back in the machine; the team played well, played aggressively and showed confidence.
So with all of the positivity, what where the negatives?
Well, we have to acknowledge that both teams where slightly under strength, so I think that levels out. Ireland built a big lead and that was great to see. It was built; it wasn’t made of flash tries it was thought out all the way through.
But, Ireland appeared uncomfortable with the lead. When Wales started coming back as they always would. Patchell played a blinder and even with my green jersey on I have to say; he was massively impressive and is a weapon for the Welsh in their secondary group games. Send on the Patchell to lead the team home. Ireland struggled with the onslaught. The final score of 22-17 was probably a fair result, but Ireland still has skeletons in the mental closet when it comes to teams coming back. This is something that needs to improve because Ireland will not have everything their own way next weekend.
On the whole this was a performance that brought stability to the squad, confidence and surety which is probably what was wanted from the game. Next week is a different game, both sides will be at full strength and if Ireland can navigate that, it will be a massive marker to the rest of the world.
The excitement is back, don’t believe the hype and enjoy the week!
@nkeegan on twitter and www.thecouchpunditireland.com for more.
Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.
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