Schmidt stresses positives but Ireland leave Cardiff in deep disappointment

Wales scored three tries to Ireland’s zero in a 22-9 win.

Murray Kinsella reports from Cardiff

ANY HOPES OF a Six Nations decider in Dublin this day next week were extinguished under the Friday night lights in Cardiff, as Wales’ 22-9 win over Ireland ensured Joe Schmidt’s men are out of the title race.

Two tries for George North and a third for Jamie Roberts accentuated Ireland’s inability to take their opportunities and the only scoring they did last night was from the kicking tee.

Rory Best dejected after the game Ireland captain Rory Best. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The disappointing performance and result in Wales means that Ireland have lost two of their four games in the championship so far, an opening-day defeat to Scotland having set them off on entirely the wrong foot.

The heights of November, when Ireland beat New Zealand, Australia and Canada, seem to provide some contrast, but Schmidt rejected the idea that Ireland have gone backwards.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Schmidt. “I think there’s incredible intensity in this tournament. The championship is always incredibly tight.

“In November, you get to play at home mostly and I guess as frustrating at it is, I still think there were some really positive things that we did tonight.”

Indeed, one of the themes of Schmidt’s post-match conference was that Ireland have reason to be proud in defeat, with the head coach mentioning in particular the defensive linespeed early in the game and the manner in which they chased down the Welsh after falling 15-6 behind.

Schmidt pointed to Ireland’s seven linebreaks, equal to Wales’ total, and the width in their attack as positive too, and instead focused on the “fine margins” as the reason for defeat.

Where were these margins? Well, according to Schmidt, one was the yellow card for Johnny Sexton that resulted in Ireland giving up 10 points while the out-half was in the sin bin.

“I felt a bit sorry for Johnny,” said Schmidt, “he’s trapped in by three players and it’s very hard to get out. But when that happens close to the line, that’s sometimes what happens.

Jonathan Sexton yellow carded by referee Wayne Barnes Sexton was sin binned in the first half. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“A penalty count of 10-4 and we cop a yellow card, it’s tough but we know in that area it’s always a risk.

“Even in the first half, I felt [Wales] were probably a bit lucky when CJ Stander went up the left-hand touchline and we were looking for fast ball and we got penalty advantage, but that was it.”

That yellow card for Sexton came after the influential out-half had already gone off for a Head Injury Assessment in the opening half, with Wales scoring a try directly from a lineout almost immediately after his departure.

Schmidt appeared to be very frustrated with that concession, as replacement out-half Paddy Jackson shot up ahead of Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw, creating the dog leg that allowed Scott Williams to make the initial break.

“They attacked well, especially when Johnny went off to get checked out and they went straight through around his area. I think it’s something that we’ll learn from,” said Schmidt, before returning to the incident later in the press conference:

“I really did feel that our first 15 minutes, we put them under some huge pressure and got very close to scoring. Unfortunately, we lost Johnny and lost a little bit of leadership and you don’t need to give Scott Williams too many invitations to break the line.

“He hit a nice line on a good change-up and we weren’t quite connected, but it was very tough for Paddy just coming on, to suddenly slot straight into that. But, again, that’s a learning experience and I honestly think that you can profit from that further down the line. That’s a challenge for us and we have to make sure that’s what the case is.”

The other fine margins?

Schmidt pointed to the block down of a Welsh exit kick late in the game, when “the ball slips through the fingers of Tadhg Furlong and I thought he might have gone close to scoring.”

Liam Williams celebrates winning Liam Williams waves to the Welsh supporters. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was the five-metre scrum in the closing minutes too, when Keith Earls knocked on Garry Ringrose’ inside pass – “we played away off the scrum when we were told to use it, I felt the scrum was starting to go forward, and we weren’t accurate enough,” said Schmidt.

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Just before that was the most notable incident of all, when Robbie Henshaw was penalised by referee Wayne Barnes for joining the maul ahead of the ball even though it looked like Ireland’s pack were on their way to scoring even without the inside centre.

“At 15-9, if we score that and convert – it’s in around the 15-metre mark so you’d expect to convert it – you go one point ahead and suddenly they’re chasing the game, not us,” said Schmidt.

“You can’t fault Wayne’s decision on Robbie entering the maul, that’s the law and we know how it is. You’re always going to have frustrations. We felt there were probably a few neck rolls out there that were pretty visible and, again, I don’t think Wayne can pick all those up.”

Schmidt refers to each of these as fine margins with some justification, but the combined effect of them was deeply damaging.

While the grumblings about Ireland’s performance last night and in this championship will likely rumble on over the coming days, Schmidt was insistent that even after this defeat in Cardiff, his side can redeem their championship by beating England next weekend.

Sean O'Brien dejected A disappointed Sean O'Brien. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You can wallow in your own self-pity or you can try to build from this, and with what we’ve got coming up next week, we can’t afford to wallow for too long.

“It’s still a huge opportunity for us, we can still finish in the top half of the Six Nations and that’s still something that’s incredibly important to us, and that’s what we’ve got to turn the page to now.

“But unfortunately, it means that we are no longer in the hunt to win the championship.”

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Murray Kinsella

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