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Missed chances, the Welsh backlash and more talking points from Cardiff

Wales had more of the big individual performers on a desperately disappointing night for Ireland.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Principality Stadium

IRELAND LOST 22-9 to Wales to all but end their Six Nations hopes for another year.

Read our full match report from Cardiff here.

Missed chance

Much of the focus will go on Robbie Henshaw joining the Irish maul ahead of the ball in the closing stages of this contest, ensuring a Welsh penalty that allowed Rob Howley’s men to lift the pressure.

Jonathan Sexton dejected Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was a poor error in the heat of the moment, of course, but there were other failings from Ireland when opportunity knocked.

As early as the 15th minute, Ireland missed a five-metre lineout and maul opportunity, as Alun Wyn Jones wrestled possession from Jamie Heaslip in the air, signalling a theme that would raise its ugly head on several other vital occasions.

Just after that Henshaw penalty error, Ireland knocked-on with their strike play from a five-metre scrum – another opportunity to go and win the game.

There was a Tadhg Furlong knock-on with metres of the Welsh tryline in the second half too, and the cumulative effect of these moments was deeply damaging for Ireland. Within sight of the Welsh tryline, Ireland just weren’t clinical enough.

The failure to cross the tryline was costly.

Welsh backlash

There were Irish fears around how Wales would react to the pressure and criticism they have come under in the past fortnight after defeats to Scotland and England, and the response was certainly stinging.

Jonathan Davies celebrates winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Welsh provided the vast majority of the most impressive performances, with man of the match Rhys Webb leading the way at scrum-half. Wing George North was a constant handful for Ireland’s defence, deservedly scoring two tries.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones wasn’t flashy but had a major impact, while Sam Warburton is back to his best without the burden of the leadership. Others like Scott Williams, Justin Tipuric and Leigh Halfpenny also provided moments of real quality.

The Welsh attack hit its peak for this championship, denting Ireland with its physicality but also bringing a few more subtle touches on set-piece attack and in phase play to damage Ireland out wide. Their defence, meanwhile, was muscular and hard-working.

Though it remains a disappointing championship for Wales overall, this was an impressive response from Howley’s side.

Ireland’s failings

While Wales had big performers throughout their side, Ireland had too many players who underperformed.

Keith Earls dejected Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Henshaw’s maul penalty error was not his only one in the 80 minutes on what was a poor night for a man who is now a leader in this team, while vice-captain Jamie Heaslip also delivered too many negative moments.

Sean O’Brien at openside didn’t match Warburton and Tipuric, with his loose pass in the second half proving particularly costly, while captain Rory Best was not at his inspirational best at hooker.

Schmidt, too, must shoulder some blame, with his hesitancy to send a bench laden with impact into action proving costly. Conor Murray appeared to be struggling with an arm injury long before he was replaced, Kieran Marmion impressing when he finally got on.

The five-metre platform that has previously been so effective for Ireland – and even provided a try against France last time out – but needs to show improvement to get back to those heights again.

Championship all but over

Sure Ireland can spoil the party for England? Indeed, they may be able to do that next weekend, but it’s a depressing thought for Irish fans that it could come down to that on the final weekend.

Tommy Bowe goes off injured Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

What had promised to be a brilliant Six Nations finale in Dublin might now be a victory parade for Eddie Jones and his Englishmen.

Opening day defeat to Scotland saw Ireland underperform and now the same has occurred in Wales, albeit in different circumstances. Again, Ireland had the opportunities to seize victory, but they shot themselves in the foot within striking distance.

 

There is now a danger that Ireland could finish the championship with only two wins, a Six Nations performance that simply wouldn’t be good enough for this ambitious coaching staff and playing squad.

Ireland’s heads will be down, but they must at least end this championship on a convincing high next weekend against the English.

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Murray Kinsella

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