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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO Greg McWilliams: 'He should be a really proud coach. I thought he did a good number on me.'
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Proud Ireland boss McWillams hails gap-closing Wales and looks to 'learnings' for France
‘As a coaching group and as a player group, we’ve got to own that performance. We all need to be collectively better.’

- Emma Duffy reports from the RDS

DESPITE THE DEFEAT, new Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams was upbeat as he reflected on this evening’s Six Nations opener at the RDS.

His side fell to a 27-19 loss to Wales as a new chapter opened in front of a record crowd of 6,113 at the RDS; the Welsh’s dominant, come-from-behind second-half showing the difference, with three unanswered tries ran in in the closing minutes when Ireland were reduced to 14 players.

First-half tries from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Linda Djougang looked to have the hosts in the driving seat — 14-5 up at the break — but Wales turned it around to secure a bonus-point win. As expected, McWilliams was keen to focus more on the positives.

 ”Credit to Wales, I thought they got on top of us physically in the second half,” he began when he spoke to the media afterwards. “We struggled to exit.

“Look, the yellow card [shown to Eimear Considine] in the last 10 minutes was tough. We saw that in their last try, our defence went very cold and very soft.

“There’s learnings for me. As a coach, you always look to see what things you’d have done differently, and there’s certain things I’d have done differently. But really proud of the players. I thought they showed excellent signs, when you think we only had 31% of possession, the signs were good. There’s certainly things there we can be proud of.”

“I think our defensive shape was good,” he continued. “I think our energy to get back in the game and defend — we defended for such long periods of time, it does take it out of a team. I felt their bench came on and added real strength and an impact, and we couldn’t cope with it.

But again, like everything else now, as a coaching group and as a player group, we’ve got to own that performance as well. So, impressed and proud of everything, from the crowd to the day that we had, it was fantastic. But we all need to be collectively better. I think we need to be smart about how we’re going to do that this week in preparation for France.”

One work-on he’ll look to is the maul defence — “an area that was exposed,” McWilliams outlined, with two of Wales’ tries coming from it, and another disallowed one — while they’ll continue to work on the scrum, which “is going in the right direction”.

“You just want to get hold of the ball a bit more and hold on to it for longer periods, because we’re trying to play a fast pace,” he added. “They slowed it down a little bit and we need to just be bit more assertive in holding onto the ball and playing the way that we want to play in attack. But really proud about what we did defensively.”

Particularly known for implementing an attractive attacking game, Ireland’s 2013 Grand Slam-winning assistant coach and the former US Eagles number two will target bringing it all together now.

“Like anything else, when you’ve got a plan in place, there’s times you doubt yourself – there’s times in the last month I’m doubting the direction it goes in, because you always do and you should, I think, and you want to be challenged by your coaching group and by the players.

So to see what I’ve been working on come through — and it was really effective when it was on — gives us enough to say, ‘We’re going in the right direction’ – particularly defensively.

“I mean, I was so happy with our defensive shape because it’s something that we put a lot of effort into, and again, 31% possession, defending for long periods, tired bodies, their subs came on and were strong, they kept us in their own half, we couldn’t get out, our exits were poor. So we’ll do work around our exits and make sure we tidy those up for the next game.”

That’s a daunting trip to Toulouse to face powerhouse France next Saturday. 

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Earlier this week, McWilliams spoke about wanting to “close the gap” with Les Bleus and England. That phrase came up again in this evening’s post-match press conference, but rather when the Ireland boss reflected on the strides Wales have made of late.

Today halted their run of seven straight Six Nations losses, with Ireland 45-0 winners in Cardiff this time last year. But there has been a complete overhaul as they prepare for the World Cup, with professional structures in place and problems of the past put to bed.

“That is the one thing in the women’s game, I think you can close a gap quite quickly,’ McWilliams concluded. “I think in the men’s game, it’s very hard to close that gap.

“And I think you saw Wales come in today and in fairness to Ioan [Cunningham, head coach], I caught up with him before the game, I caught up with him there afterwards. He should be a really proud coach.

“I thought he did a good number on me, particularly in how he used his bench – and fair play to Wales, fair play.”

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