Ireland’s experience and knowledge swamped by a red tide
It was a day when all their experience and guile counted for nothing; the day that the golden generation finally began their leaving of the stage.
We had assumed that Wales’ exuberance and energy would simply evaporate when pitted against the pedigree and proven match-winning ability of Ronan O’Gara, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell.
Instead we saw all three of Ireland’s battle-hardened veterans breathing too hard to make a critical difference; great players reduced to chasing a game that had given them no quarter.
O’Gara had Welshmen in his face for all of his 55 minutes on the park and though he kicked both his only opportunities on goal – it was a super conversion of Keith Earls’ score – his game had easily run its course in the claustrophobia that engulfed Ireland’s effort in the face of Wales’ witheringly effective defending; they made a lung-busting 141 tackles with only 11 being counted as missed.
It all had the effect of actually draining Ireland of strength and composure. They had to fight so hard for field position that once they had it possession was almost inevitably coughed up by a weary-looking and, frankly, rather unimaginative side.
Wales, on the other hand, drew inspiration from the challenge and exploited gaps and lapses to score three times; never having to work just as hard as the green shirts to create their opportunities.
Ireland may now rue their decisions to go for the corner when the penalties came their way early in the game. Yes, the chances were tricky but you have to try to take your points.
You watched O’Driscoll and O’Connell and saw that it was all just too much of an uphill struggle with the skipper, in particular, finding little space and making unusual errors.
They launched Sean O’Brien but he was hit early and low and then with Stephen Ferris also having largely fired all his ammunition in the first half, Ireland had precious little to fall back on.
In the end, they looked shaken and it was no real surprise that Jonathan Davies ran through four tacklers for his side’s third and clinching score, just after the hour, though he himself could hardly believe how easy it had been.
Even with Ireland dominating territory in the closing minutes, you sensed there was little in the tank especially after the scrum had begun to creak a bit along with the lineout as well.
In the pressure cooker game that Wales brought to Wellington, with their speed and massive presence at the breakdown, all those Munster and Leinster Heineken Cup wins counted for nothing as a punch-drunk Ireland dragged their way to the exit door. Another one gone.