Tyrone Howe: Simply get the basics right and the rest will take care of itself
Looking back at Ireland's victory on Saturday, the opening minutes gave a portent of things to come.
Geordan Murphy caught the kickoff cleanly, on a Wales throw Paul O'Connell nicked the first lineout of the day, and David Wallace executed a perfect in and out to leave his opposite number, Martyn Williams, floundering on the turf. It was a day defined by three key factors.
The basics were done well. The lineout provided a dominant platform for the control and composure that Ireland demonstrated throughout the game. Finally, the players individually and collectively backed themselves, and attacked when they had the opportunity — Ireland once again ruthlessly took their chances.
The weather is improving, the pitches are getting harder, and this plays very much to the strengths of some of Ireland's key performers. Keith Earls and Tomas O'Leary are blessed with exceptional pace and as the playing surface improves this makes them even more of a threat.
Inevitably, the attention will focus on these try-scorers, however I feel obliged to return to the lineout, which has been the strongest aspect of Ireland's play in the Six Nations. Paul |O'Connell was simply outstanding and for me could easily have been up for the man-of-the-match award.
In defence, the Lions captain seems to have made even further improvement in being able to read and disrupt opposition throw-ins. He is a natural ball-carrier, but not a natural off-loader. This is another area in which he has worked at recognising if and when to give the ball. O'Connell will have relished his role in setting up Tomas O'Leary's try.
In attack, there seem to be so many options in creating quick ball off the top, either through the second row partnership or any one of the backrow. It is from here that Ireland have been able to launch so many effective attacks. This plays to Johnny Sexton's strengths in being able to attack the gainline at pace and bringing his teammates into play.
Tommy Bowe's first half break was created from classic Sexton play and, despite not bringing his kicking boots, he is proving that he is the man to marshall Ireland to next year's Rugby World Cup.
Had those boots been packed, Ireland should have been out of sight by halftime, as Wales showed a lack of discipline and a paucity of ideas. Ten points were shipped while Lee Byrne was off the pitch, giving further evidence that you cannot afford to lose players cheaply to the sinbin — Ulster take note.
Warren Gatland will surely come under a fair bit of pressure now. While Wales have had plenty of injury problems to contend with I still expected much more from their attack and was surprised at how rarely they threatened the Irish defensive line.
This, of course, is credit to the organisation and structure of Ireland’s defence, but nonetheless the Stephen Jones/James Hook partnership has not fired and Wales’ record thus far will be unacceptable to their home support.
Late tries against England and France, and a sneaked win over Scotland, simply papered over the cracks and it took Ireland to properly expose Welsh deficiencies. Questions will start to be asked.
Irish supporters do not have the same worries. While the team will face much tougher opposition in the future, the crowd appreciated a job well done. Nothing brings you to your feet more than seeing players pinning their ears back and going for the line.
On the day Ireland produced the quality rugby, and while Declan Kidney will keep the players firmly focused on their Triple Crown game against Scotland, this performance confirmed that Ireland are, by a fair distance, the best Home Nation in the Championship this year.