Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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Six Nations drama, Schmidt's hard-hitting wings and more Ireland talking points
Ireland will pick out missed chances in their draw with Wales in Dublin.

IRELAND AND WALES shared the spoils after a 16-16 draw at the Aviva Stadium in their opening fixture of the Six Nations.

Read our match report here.

Six Nations thriller

What a contest this was. Ireland owned the opening 30 minutes, looking threatening in attack and holding the powerful Welsh surges into their 22 at bay in terms of the scoreboard, before Gatland’s men dragged themselves back into it before the half-time break.

Alun Wyn Jones and Jamie Heaslip at the final whistle James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The second 40 minutes brought us only nine points in total, but was enthralling nonetheless. Priestland’s late penalty looked to have given the Welsh the edge, but Tomas Francis was caught offside and Sexton held his nerve under pressure to level.

The closing minutes were stomach-churningly edgy as Wales came at Ireland with ball in hand, desperately searching for an away win. In the end, this result seems fair after the effort from both sides.

After a rather disappointing opening day of the Six Nations yesterday, this was on a different level.

Ireland’s wings lead the line

To see Wales delivering a superb defensive performance was no surprise, and Ireland will be pleased to have returned to the high standards they played at prior to the World Cup defeat to Argentina, when they were shredded.

Keith Earls tackles Tom James Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Wales looked to the wide channels as so many teams have done against Ireland in the recent past, but Schmidt’s men stood up to the challenge very well. Jared Payne returned to the 13 shirt and defended superbly, drifting calmly, communicating effectively and then bringing impactful contact at the tackle zone.

Inside him, the likes of Jack McGrath, Jamie Heaslip, man of the match CJ Stander and Devin Toner racked up big tackle counts, while the Ireland wings were superb in defence.

Andrew Trimble saved a try in the first half with a ball-and-all hit on Alun Wyn Jones in the first half, while Keith Earls performed similar heroics in biting down on the second-to-last man on the other edge.

The reads from Ireland’s wings were almost always accurate and they needed to be as the Welsh looked to play to the spaces close to the touchlines.

Scrum troubles

Among the negatives for Ireland was the performance at scrum time. Rob Evans, legally or not, managed to get plenty of go forward for the Welsh and that led directly to the try for Faletau in the lead-up to half time.

Conor Murray puts the ball into the scrum Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Three times in a row the Welsh won scrum penalties as Jerome Garces punished Ireland for going backwards, as Nathan White and Devin Toner behind him struggled to contain Evans.

There was an earlier scrum penalty too, though the injured Dan Biggar missed with his shot at goal to space Ireland on the scoreboard.

Jack McGrath was strong on the loosehead side, so it will be interesting to see if Schmidt and scrum coach Greg Feek feel Tadhg Furlong should start at tighthead against the French.

Back row work rate

Jamie Heaslip was positively bouncing around on the pitch at the Aviva Stadium before the game, constantly talking to his Ireland teammates and smiling at the prospect of laying into the Welsh.

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Tommy OÕDonnell with Gareth Davies Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Leinster number eight followed through with his actions, hammering into contact at every opportunity, making a total of 16 tackles. His carrying effort was similarly impressive, while he was a danger over the Welsh ball at breakdown time.

It was Heaslip’s turnover that ended that incredible 28-phase passage of Welsh attack in the second half, though Ireland immediately conceded a penalty to allow Priestland to push the Welsh in front.

On the openside, Tommy O’Donnell brought an infectious energy and clear hunger to make an impact after cruelly missing the World Cup. He punched over the gainline and harried the Welsh attack into a number of errors, before eventually departing for a HIA in the 48th minutes.

Meanwhile, CJ Stander was man of the match on his Ireland debut. Read more on his performance here.

80-minute performance

It’s almost impossible to achieve against teams of Wales’ quality, but Ireland will review this game as one where they didn’t perform for the 80 minutes. The first half hour was superb, while they had excellent patches in the second half too, but other passages were error-strewn.

Jonathan Sexton lines up a penalty Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

The minutes after Conor Murray’s try were costly, as they missed two tackles, gave up a penalty for a dangerous tackle, kicked directly into touch and then failed to exit their 22. Wales garnered 10 points in total.

After the break, Ireland’s first two visits into the Welsh 22 ended with knock-ons, then they spilled the ball again with numbers up on the right touchline. A majorly frustrating period.

Indeed, Ireland’s run without points extended to almost 50 minutes after Sexton converted Murray’s try. The decision to reject a shot at goal on the 48-minute mark after Priestland was penalised for a deliberate knock-on inside the Welsh half may be reviewed too.

A fair result to the neutral eye, but Schmidt and Ireland will pick out the missed chances.

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