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'Anything over 44 minutes, we have won... anything 37 or below, they have won'

Warren Gatland was disappointed with the ‘stop-start’ nature of Ireland’s win over Wales.

THE SIX NATIONS clashes between Ireland and Wales in recent years have thrown up a huge amount of ball-in-play [BIP] time, with their battles always being incredibly attritional.

43 minutes and 47 seconds in 2015.

42 minutes and 53 seconds in 2016.

47 minutes and 28 seconds last year.

The expectation was that Saturday’s encounter between Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland’s sides would deliver something very similar, but the story was rather different on this occasion.

Joe Schmidt with Warren Gatland before the game Schmidt and Gatland before Saturday's game. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The BIP time in Ireland’s victory over the Welsh was just 32 minutes and 57 seconds, according to Opta, and it was an element of the game that frustrated Wales boss Gatland.

Schmidt appeared to have his statistics confused post-match when he called it “such a high ball-in-play game and with so much play in it,” as he stated that Ireland hadn’t suffered any concerning injuries.

But Gatland revealed that after Wales had had almost 48 minutes of ball-in-play time against England in round two, they were disappointed not to hit a similar total against Ireland.

“It was a very stop-start game,” said Gatland. “We looked at the stats over the years when we have played Ireland and anything over 44 minutes, we have won the games, and anything 37 minutes or below, they have won the games.

They have managed that and controlled the game well in terms of momentum.

“We saw in the last 10 minutes, it was stop-start every time the whistle went, someone went down and it slowed down the tempo of the game. We have got to be able to adjust to that.

“We scored 27 points and quite conceivably we could have scored with the last play of the game. If [Jacob] Stockdale doesn’t get the intercept, or we pass out the back, we potentially score there.

“The players afterwards felt comfortable with the ball and if we are accurate and we play through phases they felt they were capable of scoring against Ireland. We just didn’t have enough territory or possession to exploit that and we need to keep improving in that area.”

Jacob Stockdale runs in his second try Stockdale streaks clear to score his second. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It is intriguing that Gatland and his coaches staff felt that if the game was high-tempo with another high BIP, they could win.

They looked at the example set by Italy scoring final-quarter tries against Ireland in round two and took encouragement.

“That is definitely something that we have been working really hard, from a conditioning/fitness point of view, in the last two games, in those last 10-15 minutes we have felt our conditioning and fitness was good,” said Gatland.

“We looked at Italy – I think Italy scored 19 points towards the end of the last week. We were conscious of that, being in the game and staying in the game and if we did that we had the chance to finish on top of them.

“Ireland are a hard team to break down, they are a good defensive team, they defend quite narrowly and came hard off their line and frustrated us at times.

“You have got to keep your patience against an Irish team, be prepared to kick a little bit and stay in that arm wrestle and wait for your opportunities. That is probably the learning we will get out of that from today.”

For Gatland, another frustration was the manner in which Wales gave up penalties to Ireland far too softly.

He was not interested in criticising referee Glen Jackson, however, with Gatland insisting Wales were “victims of our own demise” as they failed to listen to the match official and adapt.

referee Glen Jackson Gatland said he had no issues with Jackson. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“The penalty count in the first half, even though it was only seven, it was really nine because they’ve had two penalty advantages and they’ve scored off that,” said Gatland.

“We spoke about discipline and how important that was against an Irish team who thrive on playing through lots of phases and squeezing you and if they do get penalties they are generally pretty clinical at converting them into threes or five points.”

Wales’ championship hopes are over and while Gatland humorously stated that he doesn’t care who wins any possible title decider at Twickenham on St. Patrick’s weekend, he said Ireland will be difficult to beat.

“They are hard to break down, that is the thing about the Irish team. They are not flashy or anything like that, but they are clinical in terms of they are accurate, they keep the ball for lots of phases and when they get into your 22,  they normally come away with points.

“The disappointing thing from our point of view is that the things we worked on during the week and spoke about in the week came back to haunt us like the discipline, being prepared to go through lots and lots of phases against an Irish team without giving anything away.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t do that and when they got close to our goal line, they were very good.”

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Murray Kinsella

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