Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Ireland claimed a dominant victory against the men in red last night with a 32 - 9 thumping of a Welsh outfit that is now seemingly in turmoil on and off the pitch. It was far from a vintage affair, with sloppy opening exchanges and a high penalty count, but there were a lot of takeaways on the trajectory of each squad. Let's dive into the recap...
I think it's unfair to say that Wales were lacking muscle in the breakdowns as Ireland had equally poor spells around the fringes. Although the tide turned to green in the second half, Ireland gave away 4 breakdown penalties in the space of 5 minutes in the first half allowing Wales to get on the scoresheet. However, that stat does flatter the Welsh who really lacked an enforcer in the loose. Ireland were wading through the rucks with ease with Tipuric, Lewis-Hughes and Faletau largely passengers to the Irish shunt. Countless small handling errors and fumbles on the deck led to Ireland really gaining a foothold in this area and exploiting it in the second half. Alun Wyn Jones in particular looked completely ineffective in the tight 5, losing out on nearly all of his collisions in the ruck. Wales need a jackal if they have any hope of winning any ball against England; Curry, Willis and Itoje will be licking their lips in the prospect of all this free ball at the breakdown. With all the talk of James Ryan being a favourite to start in the Lions first 15 next year, he too was largely ineffective in most rucks and made some silly handling errors around the fringes; not a good game from a rucking perspective at all.
Ireland Breakdown Rating: 6/10
Wales Breakdown Rating: 3/10
Shoddy Set Piece
This is where Ireland won the game. Wales didn't just have a shoddy set piece, they had no set piece whatsoever. They lost the majority of the scrums, most on their own put in, they lost the majority of their lineouts, most on their own throw in, they couldn't win any ball in the breakdown and there was no urgency from their half backs to tap and go; they didn't tap the ball once all game. Biggar lined up his backline immensely flat but threw looping, deep passes out wide, missing men in the middle and allowing the Irish to pounce on static ball carriers. In the few occasions that Wales retained front foot ball, Biggar's only option seemed to bomb it in the air which worked successfully in a few skirmishes. However, it became painfully obvious that Wales had no faith in their attacking ability when they kept choosing three pointers despite trailing 10 and then 13 points after the 50th minute mark. Carre had a particularly poor game, being brought off before half time; not that it changed Welsh fortunes. Ireland's set piece was better but that's all I can really say about it. Poor handling in the backline on a couple of occasions scuppered some decent build up play. Both Sexton and Burns looked great in glimpses with the latter taking the ball to the line effectively before also going off with an injury. Ireland looked powerful in the scrum, a bit dysfunctional in the lineout but overall didn't have to fight too hard in any area; easy day at the office.
Ireland Set Piece Rating: 7/10
Wales Set Piece Rating: 1/10
Defence, Defence, Defence
Even though neither team put a particularly strong defensive unit together, it was still an interesting area of the game that not many are talking about. Neither team really had to defend for prolonged periods as the breakdown became more and more of a calamity. Ireland fronted up well in the midfield, with Henshaw in particular putting in a cracking performance. Doris put in some thumping tackles, most notably on his opposite number, after each restart also. I wouldn't say the Welsh defence was bad, it seemed slightly more assured than it did under Hayward a couple weeks back, but it didn't inspire any counter-play. Wales didn't win many collisions at all and with the exception of Will Rowlands hits around the breakdown, Wales didn't slow the ball down with many wrap tackles either. If you're not hitting to win the ball on the deck, not hitting to hurt the opposition and not hitting to slow the ball down, you're just postponing the next play; postponing done poorly because you can't win any breakdowns either. Halfpenny also looked uncharacteristically shaky under the high ball and made Keenan, the natural winger, look a much better full back.
Ireland Defence Rating: 7/10
Wales Defence Rating: 4/10
Here is another area that I felt Ireland didn't need to be particularly dominant in, in order to outdo their opposition. Wales were flat, lacked gas and couldn't string more than one or two passes together. Halfpenny in particular had a shocking performance from an attacking point of view, entering the line and over running the ball, fumbling easy passes and being man-handled in the 13 channel. Adams, as usual, looked dangerous when he had ball in hand but that rarely became the case. As mentioned earlier, after 50 minutes of appalling attacking Rugby, Wales gave up and preferred to use their kicking game to push them up the pitch. There weren't any clear line breaks and no highlights to speak of whatsoever from a Welsh perspective. Ireland on the other hand looked as if they started to get their act together in the final quarter. With Stockdale pulling out late in the preparations, Keenan being shifted to full back, Conway being promoted up to the wing, Henshaw starting at 12 (a position Aki has made his own for over three years now) and two fly-halves going off injured, Ireland coped well by throwing clever inside balls and cutting lines against the grain around the tight 5. Lowe in particular had a debut performance to remember, looking very powerful in the contact area and spotting gaps to exploit in the 9 - 10 channel. Sure Ireland had the same handling issues in the first half, but they kept a cohesive pattern that worked and gained ground with every phase.
Ireland Attack Rating: 7/10
Wales Attack Rating: 3/10
Summary: THE RECAP
It's yet another day to forget if you're a Welsh Rugby fan. The side literally offered no impact in any area of the game, being second best in all the statistics and being forced to make over 100 tackles before the 35th minute mark. Weak in the tight, weak in the loose, weak tactical kicking and weak in the air; in the Six Nations at least there were some positives you could take into the next game, but this team needs a complete overhaul. For Ireland it seemed comfortable from the moment they stretched their lead to ten. They snuffed out any potential threats by Wales, which already were few and far between, and played basic but aggressive go-forward Rugby. They will look forward to a big clash against England next weekend whilst the Welsh need to concentrate on absolute basics in this weeks camp to avoid an upset against Georgia.
James Lowe - Good Kick Returns, Powerful Running, Finished a Great Try and Made Williams Look Anonymous with Good Tackling.
Caelan Doris - Dominated an Experienced Opposite Number, Disrupted the Breakdown Well and Look Strong with Ball in Hand.
Robbie Henshaw - Tenacious with the Ball, Tough in Defence and a Real Rock in the Midfield.
Leigh Halfpenny - Missed two Kicks, Looked Shaky under the High Ball, Offered Nothing in Attack and Made Silly Handling Errors.
Gareth Davies - Looked Unmotivated From the Start, Didn't Challenge in Attack, Put in Some Weak Box Kicks and was Largely Anonymous.
Rhys Carre - Hauled Off Before Half Time, Poor in the Scrum, Anonymous in the Breakdown and Lost Collisions in the Tackle.
Justin Tipuric - Anonymous in the Breakdown, Lost Collisions in the Tackle, Hung out on the Wing too Often and Didn't Slow the Ball Down