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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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Schmidt and O'Connell left frustrated by defeat to Gatland's Wales
Warren Gatland’s side conceded far fewer penalties and won the contest in Dublin.

IT WILL BE pointed out that this was a mere warm-up fixture and that the real stuff is still to come, but defeat to Warren Gatland’s Wales will rankle with Ireland.

Paul O'Connell with Rhys Webb Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Connell attempts to reach over the maul as Webb kicks for Wales. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The above argument has elements of truth and a loss to the Welsh in Dublin in August will swiftly be forgotten if Ireland make an impression upon the World Cup. Still, Paul O’Connell and co. aren’t totally accustomed to losing when in the green jersey on recent times.

“I don’t really” was O’Connell’s answer when asked post-match if he felt Sean Cronin’s disallowed try was all that had been between Ireland and Wales in terms of the overall balance of the contest.

O’Connell and head coach Schmidt both pointed out that Ireland’s penalty count, totted up by South African referee Craig Joubert, meant they handed Wales far too many easy ‘ins’.

To be honest, it’s a little bit of déjà vu,” said Schmidt. “We conceded a lot of penalties in the Millennium Stadium match during the Six Nations and I think we were 6-0 down in penalties (in Dublin) when we went 10-0 down on the scoreboard.

“Just allowing a team of the quality of Wales that much access is always going to put us under pressure. I think the penalty count finished around about 15-6, with a couple of free kicks and scrums thrown in there. That’s incredibly frustrating.”

Schmidt pointed to a penalty against O’Connell for a perceived clearout around a Welshmen’s neck in particular.

“One of them in the 50th minute, if you have a look, is called by a man (assistant referee Luke Pearce) 50 metres away when the referee is three metres away, for a cleanout around the neck and it’s this fella (O’Connell) with both arms under the armpits,” said Schmidt.

Paul O'Connell and George North wait to lead out their teams Ryan Byrne / INPHO George North led the Welsh side out as he won cap number 50 at the age of 23. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“The ball goes out five metres from the Welsh line at 10-10 and instead we end up in our 22 with their possession. Those are the fine margins that matches swing on, but they happen to both sides.

“You’ve got to be able to cope with that and we didn’t cope well enough. You can’t give Leigh Halfpenny goal-kicking opportunities, he’s too good at it. You can’t give a team of the quality of Wales an opportunity to enter into your defensive zone, because they will make you pay for it.”

Indeed, Gatland’s side did, with Halfpenny as accurate as ever from the tee and the Welsh pack taking advantage of strong first-half field position to rumble over from the maul at the third time of asking.

O’Connell echoed Schmidt’s annoyance at Ireland’s high penalty count and pointed out that his team generally hadn’t delivered on what they had planned to bring to the occasion.

I think there’s a certain amount of things we wanted to improve on from the Scottish game,” said O’Connell. “We probably didn’t do that and from our point of view that’s disappointing.

“I suppose there’s a few guys who you wanted to give every opportunity to make the (final World Cup) squad and we probably didn’t play as well as we would have liked for them.

“There’s certain things we pride ourselves on, our build ourselves on, and we didn’t do a whole lot of those very well today. Obviously discipline was one of them, just giving teams repeated cracks at you through mauls, goal-kicking or conceding 50 metres of the field through penalties is a very tough way to play the game and win games.”

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Sean Cronin is unable to ground the ball for a late try Ryan Byrne / INPHO Sean Cronin crossed the tryline at the death buy was held up. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland did have patches of possession with which they attempted to test the Welsh defence, but Gatland argued post-match that Schmidt’s side hadn’t made the visitors uncomfortable with their “narrow” attack.

The analysis from Gatland was somewhat accurate if overdone, particularly regarding Ireland’s phase play. Asked to assess his team’s attacking performance, Schmidt stated that slow ruck ball had left Ireland’s hands somewhat tied.

“The ball was pretty slow to be honest, a lot slower than in the Scotland game,” said Schmidt. “I think there was a lot more tolerance around the ruck for players who were there and then getting out of the way.

“Certainly last time we played, two weeks ago, there was less tolerance. Certainly last time we played Wales (in the Six Nations), there was no tolerance whatsoever. Once ball is slowed down it is quite hard to get momentum because the defence can line up and get off the line.

You’re almost defending having the ball, because they’re attacking you with the linespeed they can deliver. With so many big men that are so effective in the tackle, Wales are very, very effective in doing that.

“It did make it pretty tough, but at the same time just prior to half time I thought we got some really good pressure (for Iain Henderson’s try). And just at the end, we got some good pressure. Even at times in that first 10 minutes after half time, I felt we attacked pretty well.

“It wasn’t sustained long enough and either we made an error or they got access to the ball. That was disappointing.”

Beating England next weekend will demand a whole lot more.

- This article was originally published at 06.30 and then updated at 12.30.

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