In a match that was always going to throw up a series of talking points one way or another, everyone left the Aviva on Saturday thinking only one thing; Ireland dismantled Wales in every sector, both on the field and in the dugout. There were so many reasons to be cheerful when the game finished up, but here’s the five most exciting.
1. Marvellous O’ Mahony
After his stellar showing last weekend Peter O’Mahony followed it up with another peerless outing on Saturday. O’Mahony is developing into a real icon, and even on a day when so many Irish players put in outstanding shifts he was still performed to a notably higher level to his teammates. The Corkman plays with such ferocity and aggression he can sometimes be over zealous in his defensive efforts, giving away the occasional penalty, but he is a real focal point in Ireland’s rock solid defensive system. At the moment he is one of the form backrow operators in Europe and is possibly the strongest flanker over the ball in this seasons competition. Up against one of the most highly rated bakrow combinations in world rugby, O’Mahony was central to Ireland’s dominance at the breakdown and aligned with Joe Schmidt’s excellent game plan completely nullified the influence Sam Warburton would normally exert. O’Mahony will be relishing his battle next time out against the English. England have a bruising pack and a different dynamic to the Welsh but O’Mahony is proving he is adept at dealing with all challenges.
2. Tactically Terrific
All the Ireland players, and the Leinster ones before them, bleat on endlessly about the impressive attention to detail Joe Schmidt puts into his preparation for every game. Well the proof is in the pudding and Schmidt and his backroom think-tank formulated the ideal tactic to stifle their Welsh opponents this weekend. Wales have a highly vaunted backrow, where they usually excel at turning over the ball and disrupting the attacking sides attempt to spread the ball away from the tackle area speedily. Ireland largely bypassed this danger by kicking excellently throughout. Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney and Conor Murray all kicked brilliantly and the chasers never allowed the Welsh back three to counterattack with any interest. Once Ireland established a 13-0 half time lead the were able to pepper the corners in the second half and keep the Welsh hemmed in. Schmidt also targeted the Welsh set piece, disrupting their lineout sufficiently, meaning the visitors never had the platform to bring their monstrous backline into the game with any real conviction. Ireland also got under Mike Phillips skin and the scrum half was visibly agitated from start to finish. His petulance and frustration took from his performance and he ended the game in the sin bin after trying to start a scuffle with Rob Kearney right at the death.
3. Defensive Discipline
Two games, nine points conceded, and the only side in the tournament yet to have their tryline breached, Ireland’s defence is working excellently so far in this campaign. With the exception of one Jamie Roberts break early in the second half, Ireland’s solid line never looked in danger of breaking. Not only did the Welsh fail to make much headway in attack, they were often driven back by a robust combination of determined Irish tacklers. The explosive George North was almost anonymous, making none of his trademark scything breaks, while with Roberts’ failure to beat the first tackler, Wales were unable to thrive in broken field play in the manner they usually do. With their main protagonists shackled, they were completely bereft of any alternative approach to bring them back into the game and the failure to spring James Hook from the bench in search of an alternative avenue of attack was baffling. Ireland also kept their discipline brilliantly, conceding only three penalties within kickable range, only one of which came at a time when a three pointer was of any use to Wales.
4. Mauling to Victory
The Irish maul has always been highly thought of, but it has evolved to the stage where it is now nearly unstoppable. Both Ireland tries were a direct result of a dominant and rumbling forward unit. Ireland mauled at every opportunity, from every part of the pitch, which had a two pronged effect on Wales. Firstly on the scoreboard, but also from a mental perspective where the beleaguered Welsh were drained of their confidence as they were being continuously driven back by a rampantly effective home side. They had no option but to either attempt to pull it down or trot backwards hopelessly trying to repel the green tide. It clearly took its toll as Ireland mauled a full twenty metres at the death in the build up to Paddy Jackson’s try. It’s one thing knowing the maul is coming, it’s an entirely different proposition trying to stop it. Something Wales couldn’t manage. The maul is definitely an area England will be looking to target in two weeks. On this evidence they will need 15 forwards to have any hope.
5. Fixture schedule
The ‘bad year’, when Ireland must travel to both London and Paris is never ideal. Ireland haven’t managed to win in both cities in the same year since 1973. However the way the fixture list has fallen this year, it has given Ireland a real chance. With no disrespect to Scotland if you had the chance to pick an opening fixture, at home to them would be most people’s choice. Duly dispatched. The clash with Wales this year was always going to be spicy and having them second guaranteed the players would be fresh, with the rust shaken off from week one. Done and dusted. Now the players have a chance to recharge the batteries ahead of their momentous trip to Twickenham. They will relish the extra rest and then added proportion time ahead of what is expected to be a brutal physical examination. After the England game, Ireland will embark on their second rest week before concluding the championship at home to Italy and away to France. It is the least taxing schedule Ireland could have hoped for with no big game back to back. Also Ireland kick off against France last on the last Saturday which means if they are still in the running for the championship or Grand Slam they will know exactly what will be required of them, which is a huge benefit.
Pundit Arena, Ozer McMahon.