Ireland eventually grab deserved 23-point winning margin as Wales' losing streak goes on
There was always going to be someone unlucky on Friday the 13th and with Wales unable to move on from their Halloween nightmare home Six Nations loss to Scotland, Wayne Pivac’s strugglers fell to a sixth successive defeat on his watch when comfortably outmanoeuvred by Ireland 32-9 at Aviva Stadium.
There was no arguing the outcome. When Wales were last in Dublin in February they had arrived with a swagger, still riding the crest of the wave that was winning the 2019 Six Nations with a Grand Slam performance and then going on to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Japan under Warren Gatland.
Even Pivac’s first outing read the mood of the upbeat room he had inherited, Wales defeating Italy in a long-ago round one championship fixture. Since then, though, there has just been a decline, a fast slide into the doldrums that never looked like ending at the Aviva Stadium.
Punishing losses to Ireland, France, England, France, Scotland and now Ireland again have been suffered amid the unceremonious sacking of their defence coach and not since an eight-match losing streak in 2012 have they been so poor.
Playing too lateral, lacking physicality in defence and an inability to put fear in the opposition were just some of the damning accusations earlier this week from ex-Ireland player Simon Zebo and most of those shortcomings were visible here on a crisp November night where they only mystery was that Ireland didn’t won by even more.
"It just doesn't seem like the typical Welsh team" https://t.co/1dArWgpGa4
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Credit to resilient Welsh scrambling in defence for making this appear on the scoreboard at least that it was a reasonably close contest for a large chunk of time. Leigh Halfpenny even missed a kick to have the gap at just seven points around the hour mark, but they were well beaten here in terms of general rugby, something that Pivac must not shy away from, and the final score was eventually more reflective of what took place.
Ireland, who lost Johnny Sexton before the half-hour with what appeared to be a hamstring issue, were forced into some last-minute alterations, Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson both ruled out and replaced by Andrew Conway and Quinn Roux, but that didn’t affect them too much, although they would have been very disappointed that their lead was just ten points at the break.
The Welsh set-piece was off, there were too many penalties conceded in general play while visits into Irish territory were excruciatingly rare in a half where the visitors were forced to tackle five times more than Ireland, their count exceeding 100 as they tried to slow down an impressively high-tempo Irish pack led by Caelan Doris that repeatedly delivered fast ball to the backs.
Shane Lewis-Hughes initially showed some level of durability Wales, poaching an early halfway penalty off James Lowe for no release, and an edge quickly materialised to proceedings. There was a ruckus involving Alun Wyn Jones and Peter O’Mahony, some after the whistle jostling as well of debut-making Lowe after his knock-on spoiled a promising opening.
Ireland wrangled a penalty at the ensuing Wales scrum and while they messed up at the lineout after kicking to touch, Andrew Porter again put the squeeze on Rhys Carre to enable Sexton to give Ireland an eleventh-minute lead. Lowe soon had Ireland back on the front-foot, wrapping up Liam Williams for a penalty, and energy coursed through his team as they sniffed a try only to be denied by James Ryan holding on at the line.
A Ryan fumble soon after provided Wales further respite and they were level on 18 minutes when Halfpenny punished Robbie Henshaw for not releasing the tackled player. Parity didn’t last long, though, a Lowe break into the 22 the catalyst for an Ireland penalty which they elected to scrum down. Some pick and drive later, Roux went low enough to escape the clutches of Will Rowlands and score the try Sexton converted for 10-3.
It swiftly got worse for Wales, a Sexton kick in behind causing confusion and resulting in Halfpenny getting penalised for holding on with Henshaw all over him like a rash. Sexton, however, exited injured, something seemingly giving way when he kicked the penalty. This saw Billy Burns enter for his debut and Wales soon regained some lost ground, winning a penalty off Porter at the next scrum. Halfpenny landed the kick for 13-6 but the remainder of the half was all Ireland.
Conway was twice tackled into touch while gunning for the line either side of a Burns three-pointer off the tee, while there was another try shout when Porter battled with Josh Adams for the ball that went loose off Rowlands at a Welsh throw five metres from their line.
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They got away with that error but their unease was visible when they went to scrum down, Wyn Jones being introduced for the struggling Carre to ensure there was no further infringement before the interval whistle sounded. Wales got away with that tactical ruse but they were penalised at the first scrum in the second half, their replacement loosehead going the way that Carre did on too many occasions in the first half.
Still, they clung on, O’Mahony missing a lineout catch and then Hugo Keenan swallowed up on halfway for the penalty that Halfpenny narrowly missed. He was on target from much closer in soon after, putting Wales back in touching distance at just 16-9 behind.
Doris was excellent charging down a Rhys Webb clearance kick, regathering to nearly send in Cian Healy. Wales wriggled free of the ensuing pressure off the five-minute scrum but a snipe by Jamison Gibson-Park led to a penalty kick for Burns.
The now nip-and-tuck pattern should have continued, Wales getting penalty after Ryan collared Adams high, but Halfpenny was inexplicably off target and that was the end of the resistance as pressure led by O’Mahony on Lloyd Williams had Conor Murray, a replacement for injured sub Burns, slotting a 67th-minute penalty for 22-9.
Wales then sent on Callum Sheedy for a debut in place of Dan Biggar, but the game was up for the visitors who had to quickly watch Murray stretch out the margin again from the tee and the final blow came right at the death, Lowe barrelling over for the try converted by Murray.
Ireland now move on to face England away knowing they must step it up again and be more clinical if they are to alter the one-sided nature of those bruising contests. Wales, meanwhile, limp home hoping that they will surely have enough to break their miserable losing streak against Nations Cup minnows Georgia.
IRELAND 32 – Tries: Roux (23), Lowe (80+1). Cons: Sexton (24), Murray (80+2), Pens: Sexton (11, 28), Burns (36, 54), Murray (67, 72)
WALES 9 – Pens: Halfpenny (18, 31, 50)
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