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The McCaw-like play from Van der Flier as Ireland's pack rolled over Wales

By Ben Smith
(Photos by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Ireland showed their credentials as favourites for the title in this year’s Six Nations, it took less than 90 seconds to meticulously enforce their will over Wales.

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Within 10 minutes the Irish pack had scored twice, outsmarting Wales at the ruck and manipulating numbers in their favour.

Ireland’s pack battered Gatland’s troops until they wilted from their very first opportunity after Wales fullback Liam Williams had little choice but to clear the lines and hand them a five metre lineout.

Following a peel play with hooker Dan Sheehan running into the 10 channel, quick carries by the Irish pack began to create a lag between Taulupe Faletau (8) and Jac Morgan (6) coming around the corner.

Justin Tuperic (7) made an ill-timed decision to compete at the ruck, Faletau continued fanning out and Morgan stopped in close to form the pillar defence.

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The split-second decisions by all three left a small vulnerability in the defence which was enough for Ireland’s ruthless attack to take advantage of.

Ireland’s maestro Johnny Sexton injected himself into the attack preciously when this opening presented and played lock James Ryan into that space with an inside ball.

This slight gap became a serious issue for the defence as Ryan’s strong carry drew five Welsh defenders to the ground.

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Faced with the threat of Ryan scoring, too many Wales defenders scrambled to attempt to hold him up.

It took Jac Morgan, Justin Tuperic, Joe Hawkins, Gareth Thomas and Alun Wyn Jones to bring him down, with a few questionable decisions to join the pile instead of folding over and bolstering the line for the next phase.

With Wales facing a severe numbers shortage, No 8 Caelen Doris finished the job on the next recycle, running into space for Conor Murray.

Peter O’Mahoney’s line helped hold George North for an extra split second and Doris crashed over.

It was just a cascading problem for Wales, as Ireland turned a small crack into a large one and rode the momentum and speed to take advantage.

The next try was constructed again through the forwards, using the pack from a set piece tap to deliberately create a two-on-one in short space.

Hooker Sheehan took the tap and hit up to set a ruck, before the first latch-carry by Ireland.

Prop Andrew Porter played scrumhalf and provided the pass for the first battering ram, Caelen Doris and Peter O’Mahoney.

Josh Van der Flier was in the boot to clean and provided a pivotal role in the ensuing carnage.

Wales ended up again committing many bodies in order to bring Doris to ground, four defenders got dragged into proceedings.

Van der Flier’s job was to be the ‘pin man’ and come in late and hold down as many players as possible.

The Irish openside managed to engage both props, Tomas Francis and Gareth Thomas, and prevent them from reloading.

The dirty work by Van der Flier allowed the second battering ram featuring James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne to find a two-on-one situation on Wales No 12 Hawkins.

Jac Morgan (6) was the closet defender to the ruck and had to be drawn away from the battering ram to preserve the two-on-one.

The Welsh blindside flanker was forced to cover a prop in the hole, tighthead Finlay Bealham, so couldn’t really hedge his bets.

If he was to prevent Bealham from barging over at that range, he had to anchor down and get off the line fast.

Bealham expertly played a deft pass to the second battering ram which committed Morgan into contact and took him out of play.

The physics were in Ireland’s favour with two giant locks combining to power over a midfielder for the second try.

A scrum penalty from right in front added three more points for a 17-3 lead, all earned by the eight men up front.

A James Lowe intercept minutes later all but killed off the contest a little over 20 minutes into the game.

Ireland’s pack may have had a third try late in the half when Sheehan powered down inside the five but a knock-on by Doris after a chop tackle by Ken Owens spoiled the opportunity.

The Welsh defence improved greatly in the second half while the home side enjoyed much more possession than the first but the damage was already done.

Van der Flier bagged a late try for good measure after similar lead up work from the forwards.

While Sexton is a genius orchestrating their attack, Ireland’s greatest strength right now is up front with the best pack in the world.

The power combined with their game speed and precision is unmatched. South Africa and France might have power and physicality in spades up front but they do not have the work rate, precision and the ball skills of the Irish forwards.

They have the collective nous to run precise lines and perform each role to a high level, whether it be the supporting line on a carry, the clean out, the block line, the tip pass, all with accurate timing.

They play so close to the defensive line at times they are almost on top of it. The pound bodies at the breakdown in ruthless fashion to maintain fast recycles.

No one else’s forwards are as well-rounded as Ireland or asked to do as much in a game.

And they interlink with Johnny Sexton and the backs seemingly perfectly, understanding where to be and what to do in near every situation.

Ireland’s pack are ready to make a statement next week when France come to visit.

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Comments

14 Comments
D
Dave 502 days ago

Only Ben Smith would write garbage like this. One Irish forward could make the Springbok side (JVF) and that's it. Evident by how their pack was absolutely dominated in every facet of the game when they played SA a few months ago...if you based your writing on facts and went and looked at the stats in that game, you'd have a very hard time saying Ireland have the best pack in world rugby.

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