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Ireland showed fire and fury when they needed it to kick-start Andy Farrell era with Wales win

Peter Bills


Ireland's John Cooney should have been starting against Wales, according to Peter Bills

Ireland's John Cooney should have been starting against Wales, according to Peter Bills

AFP via Getty Images

Ireland's John Cooney should have been starting against Wales, according to Peter Bills

Praise where praise is due. This was a much better, far more invigorated display by Ireland from the tepid performance against Scotland seven days earlier.

There were clear signs of Ireland’s game returning to life. Their forwards at last had some fire in their bellies. And their back three looked right on the money, whether kicking or with ball in hand. All three attacked and defended with great gusto.

There were welcome signs too that Conor Murray had remembered other parts of his game than just the box kick. His passing was fast, slick and lengthy. Jonathan Sexton showed far more authority than the previous week, too. And one second half tackle by Keith Earls on giant Welsh No. 8 Taulupe Faletau summed up the Irish spirit. It was brave, bold and brilliant.

All good signs.

Wales played their part in an entertaining international at the Aviva. Their inter-passing was fast and neat, and they showed patience in their efforts to break the Irish defensive line.

And yet, one statistic that haunts northern hemisphere rugby, still came to mind. There have now been nine Rugby World Cups and the northern hemisphere has won just one of them, England in 2003. And one of the main reasons for that is the poor finishing of international teams in this part of the world.

Both teams were guilty of working their way deep into their opponents’ 22 and squandering the obvious scoring opportunity. They found all manner of ways to do that – dropping passes, knocking on, scrum offences, creeping up offside. You name it, they did it. There were simple, silly errors committed by both sides.

Welsh centre Hadley Parkes’ dropping the ball as he dived to score on the Irish line in the second half was a clear example. It was a huge let off for Ireland.

This is why teams from the northern hemisphere have not fulfilled their potential at World Cups. You need to be clinical and ruthless, as well as patient, in the opposition 22. It seems an art that is hard to adopt among the 6 Nations countries.

In so many ways, this was a defining day for Irish rugby. Was this an ailing team, perhaps living on past glories?

And is their new coach too rigid and structured in his thinking to embrace a bold new future?

Indeed, is the coach a No. 1 or just an excellent No. 2 man, and a defensive strategist? Can he open and expand Ireland’s game?

Ireland, surely, must at some stage use Leinster’s towering dominance of rugby in the UK and France as a base from which to build a new national team. Trouble is, holding onto too many old glories and being afraid to pick keen, hungry youngsters is a policy that usually comes back to bite you.

Even though Conor Murray gave a far improved display, in my view, the omission of Ulster half-back John Cooney from the starting line up in Ireland’s first two games of the season has been a mistake. And what do you do now? Ireland’s next game will be one of their toughest – England at Twickenham. Wouldn’t it have been better to start Cooney against Scotland? And then either retain him in the starting line-up against Wales or use him off the bench.

Making adjustments is always easier from the starting point of a team winning games. When you lose matches, there is usually too much of a hint of panic about several changes.

Ireland had to rediscover the sense of fire and fury in their bellies. It wasn’t there in a tame World Cup quarter final exit and it wasn’t against the Scots last weekend.

But this time, there were signs that the blue touch paper had at least been lit.

Wales had started the game looking for their ninth successive victory in the 6 Nations. A proud run like that clearly ensured Ireland were right up for the challenge. And they needed to be because Wales never looked more dangerous than when they fell 19-7 behind.

Ireland had to withstand a terrific barrage of pressure in and around the third quarter. But they stood up manfully to the task and eventually lifted the siege. Andy Conway's late try was icing on the cake.

No-one in the Irish camp will overdo the celebrations. Not with England at Twickenham and France in Paris still to play. But this was a vastly better performance by the men in green. The Celtic tiger is back and so is Ireland’s rugby team.

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Belfast Telegraph