Ireland vs Wales
It’s the return of the Six Nations! And you know what that means! Liveblogs! As always, WYWG will be commentating mainly on the BBC’s coverage of the Welsh campaign, with occasional interjections on hairstyles and the actual rugby from friend-of-WYWG, Tom, whose comments will be [indicated via the dual mechanisms of italics and square brackets, thus.] Let’s go!
The show starts with a shot of John Inverdale cycling a woman’s bike1 across a bridge. I’m not gonna lie—it’s pretty hilarious. Sam Warburton pops back to Rhiwbina for a quick interview at his boyhood rugby club. He seems like a very nice young man. Terrible taste in music, though. Wikipedia describes Rhiwbina as “a prosperous suburb of Cardiff.” [Hence the double-barrelled surname eh?]
Whilst running down the Irish team, Keith Wood mentions a “smell of revenge in the air.” What does revenge smell like? [Like Keith Wood’s scalp?]
Sonja McLaughlan, talking to Warren Gatland: “If you could bottle what Wales had at the Rugby World Cup I guess you’d be a very wealthy man.” Aaah I’ve missed the BBC’s coverage. Great stuff.
I am sad that I won’t get to see Shane Williams or Martyn Williams in a Wales shirt any more. Apparently “Cuthbert” is playing on the right wing for Wales today. He is 6′6″. Which I guess helped him get away with being called “Cuthbert” at school. [Although seeing as Cuthbert went to school in England (what with being English and all), it was probably okay to be called Cuthbert or Jasper or Ffordwyke-Smythe.]
Sonja’s talking to Colin Charvis now. She describes Faletau as “the Welsh-Tongan live wire”.
A graphic tells me that Conor Murray is playing in “hist first” [sic] Six Nations match today. The BBC, ladies and gentlemen!
Jeremy Guscott, Keith Wood, AND Jonathan Davies all pick Ireland to win. Boo!
I know this has been noted a thousand times before, but good God Leigh Halfpenny is fresh-faced. Are we sure he’s old enough to be playing international rugby? Has he got a permission slip from his Mum? [Yet in this team of thrusting youth, Leigh is an old hand—23 years old and 28 caps.]
Anthems over. Commentary team: Eddie Butler and Phillip Matthews. Let’s get cracking!
Eddie Butler says that Paul O’Connell is the reigning Lions coach. That seems pretty unlikely. He also thinks that Adam Jones is a “comforting presence”. [I couldn’t agree more.] My favourite thing he says before kick-off, though: “Rhys Priestland: fit, Jamie Roberts: fit.” But my gosh don’t they know it.
Ref is your friend and WYWG’s, Wayne Barnes.
Wales concede a couple of penalties early on. Sexton has a crack at the second one. While we wait for the kick, Eddie Butler reminisces fondly about a previous game Sexton played in: “kicking, running, and passing…” He almost sighs with bliss. [He normally saves these sorts of longeurs for descriptions of Sergio Parisse’s fabulous muscularity.]
Ireland 3 - 0 Wales
Wales have a lineout. The short throw doesn’t look all that straight to me, but Barnes thinks it’s fine, and Bradley Davies charges down the line, with the ball irritatingly palmed in one hand. Hold on to it properly! A few phases later, the Welsh backs run a fairly ineffectual move on the right wing. Phillips dives for the line after the ensuing ruck, but is stopped short in a crunching tackle. Wales spin the ball left, and George North! smashes through Kearney. Three Irish players manage to drag him down. Ryan Jones goes over the line, but the video ref can’t decide whether he manages to down the ball or is held up. Welsh 5m scrum. Barnes psyches out the scrum with an extra long “pause” command, and Wales are penalised for their resulting false start.
The BBC get Andy Nicol to “analyse” Wales’s successful lineout for 30 seconds or so, completely oblivious to the fact that play has restarted. Ugh.
Wales win a free kick at the scrum. They attack, and Priestland makes a superb wrap-around pass to Jonathan Davies who goes over for the try. [Slick from Priestland, and encouraging from Wales.] Priestland’s kick hits the post.
Ireland 3 - 5 Wales
Warburton finds himself isolated in midfield, but does a great job of not losing the ball in the tackle. Canny. [That he is. Not just a (slightly less than) pretty face, our Sam.]
Wales attack, and are looking confident now, trying some moves in the back line and attacking patiently with multiple phases. Ireland concede a penalty, which Priestland slaps into the post. That’s 2 from 2. [Unerring accuracy. Maybe they should make it extra points for hitting the posts?]
Halfpenny makes a poor decision under a high ball, attempting to take it by crouching down(?) as Kearney leaps over him. Ireland have a chance to attack, but immediately go offside. Wales kick for safety.
Eddie Butler on the lineout: “Huw Bennett, bang on halfway.” The lineout is shown to be a couple of metres away from the halfway line. Butler makes a quick recovery, “…almost.”
Another Welsh lineout. Phillip Matthews jinxes it by remarking that the Welsh lineout has been fairly successful so far. O’Connell steals Bennett’s throw-in.
Rhys Gill hugs an Irish forward from behind in a ruck, and slaps him repeatedly on the arse. I have no idea.
Wales seem to be kicking the ball in attack a lot now. Don’t really approve, especially as they don’t seem to be gaining much from the tactic.
Andy Nicol is analysing the Welsh try. He remarks that there were four Welsh attackers on the blindside. And then counts them off on the freeze-frame as little red numerals appear next to each. [Perhaps they can recycle this clip over on CBeebies?]
Ireland have an advantage in the Welsh half (I think, for befouling Bowe after he’s kicked the ball away). Sexton has a punt at a drop goal, which misses, so he has a go at the penalty. He misses that, too.
Kearney kung-fu kicks Halfpenny as he waits for a high kick. He’s adjudged to be attempting a play on the ball, though. [Yer man Kearney does have some “hops” as I believe the basketball parlance would have it.]
Butler channelling Nicholson: “Here’s Cuthbert!”
Ireland turn the ball over, but Bowe can’t hold onto McFadden’s pass and we have another Welsh lineout. Wales kick it away again, and Ireland attack. But Wales steal it back. Ireland just can’t seem to keep possession at the moment.
Wishing I hadn’t written that, as Ireland string together a series of phases and offloads and advance into the Welsh 22. Why would I jinx my own team like that! [In fits and starts, both teams have been playing some good stuff here. Wales just edging it I’d say, and worth more than there two point lead.]
Is someone talking dirty to Barnes over his headset? Whenever there’s a break in play, he’s got this odd little smirk on his face. [What a vile thought…]
Ireland have a penalty. They play the advantage, and then Best scores a fairly straightforward try. Sexton converts.
Ireland 10 - 5 Wales
[As I said, Wales definitely just edging it here…]
Wales attack, but Cuthbert knocks on Priestland’s pop pass, and we go into half time with Ireland up by 5.
Half time score: Ireland 10 - 5 Wales
Sonja thinks “you can feel the crowd here at the Aviva stadium really absorbed” by this “great game”. Charvis [the Welsh-English live-wire] on Ireland: “They’ll be confident and their juggernaut has just started rolling, so I’m sure they’ll be coming out with the confidence in the second half.” Ireland have a juggernaut? Is that allowed? Sonja asks how Wales should stop the “juggernaut you’ve just alluded to.” Charvis thinks the solution is to “go with your heart.” Everyone is obsessed about the “twists and turns” this match is displaying. THIS IS WHY I PAY MY LICENSE FEE.
Stats! Although at one point Wales had 75% of the territory and almost the same amount of possession, the counts currently stand at 60% and 54%, respectively. They’ve also won the ball in the opponent’s 22 fourteen times to Ireland’s 1. They’ve lost 3 lineouts, though. [And are 5 points down.]
Inverdale asks Jonathan Davies why Wales are down 10-5. Jiffy thinks it’s because Barnes asked the video ref whether to award the try rather than whether there was any reason not to award it. Guscott: “How cool are Ireland?” They’re like the goddamn Fonz up in here! [In all probability, a room full of rugby pundits is not the correct tribunal to rule on coolness.] Inverdale: “And there was that passage of play where Wales had so many… wblth… recycling of the ball… j’st t’dst th—the way that Ireland managed to hold out is extraordinary.” How much money does this man make? IT SHOULD BE MORE! As always, Wood mostly talks sense, and Jonathan Davies pronounces names phonetically.
Warburton has a dead leg, and won’t be playing in the second half. Frowny face.
The team actually do make a good point about the mistake Cuthbert made when Ireland scored their try. He should have immediately committed to tackle Bowe when Priestland went in for a tackle, and that he didn’t shows his inexperience. That’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on myself (specifically the inexperience being the reason for his hesitation), and I’d love to hear more of it. As opposed to, say, Andy Nicol’s impression of The Count. Although if it took time away from Sonja’s repartee with Charvis I would not approve. [Point taken, it’s like Bogie and Bacall with those two sometimes. Someone give them a chat show. Or a sitcom. There’s a vacancy on Daybreak right?]
Inverdale: “James Hook is playing… for Cuthbert. So that’s interesting.” [Insight!]
Kick-off! James Hook’s first act is to get turned over. Ireland scrum. It collapses, and Barnes awards Ireland a penalty. Sexton makes the kick. Matthews wonders if the turnover would have occurred had Warburton still been on the pitch. Answer: nope, and it wouldn’t have happened had Gethin been playing, either.
Ireland 13 - 5 Wales
[Urgh, two scores off the pace and 39 minutes to go. I do not like the way this is heading.]
Wales have the ball, but Priestland kicks it away, with no chasers. Ireland kick it into touch, but Wales win their own lineout.
Even Eddie Butler is getting exasperated by Phillips’s agonisingly slow service: “Phillips is taking his time again.” After a very quiet 10 phases, Wales are awarded a penalty. Can Priestland get his hitting-the-post hat-trick?! No, he slices the ball about 20 yards to the right of the goal. [Variety at least, I guess. Also, that’s eight points from missed kicks thus far. Will we lose by less than eight? Paddy Power in-game betting time people…]
Ireland win a very good drop 22, and then get away with forward pass. They advance to the halfway line, but Wales turn it over.
Barnes penalises McFadden for not rolling away. Halfpenny’s going to have a go, as Priestland doesn’t seem to have brought his kicking boots today. Matthews claims that Halfpenny’s “normally a long-range specialist,” which doesn’t sound right to me. Like, he can only kick long range? Eddie Butler points out that he takes all the kicks for Cardiff. And he makes this one.
Ireland 13 - 8 Wales
George North! smashes through a tackle (as is his wont to do) and then makes a lovely back-handed offload to Jonathan Davies, who goes over for the try. [That is some Sonny Bill style sleight of hand from GN! there, and a beautiful straight support line from JD2 as well. That one’s destined for the try-of-the-tournament short-list for sure.] Halfpenny makes the conversion, and all of a sudden, Wales are in the lead!
Ireland 13 - 15 Wales
James Hook is tackled to the ground and then George North! body slams him like Jimmy Superfly Stuka. With team-mates like these…
Ireland attack! Wales concede a penalty. Ireland play out their advantage. The penalty is on the right side of the pitch for Sexton.
Ireland 16 - 15 Wales
Twenty minutes left to play. I am strangely calm.
Priestland tries a high kick. Ireland return the favour. Faletau makes a good catch under pressure. Ireland turn it over, but then kick it straight into touch. Ireland sub off Donncha [sic] O’Callaghan for Donnacha [sic] (comin atcha) Ryan. [What’s the collective noun for Donnachas? A lobotomy?]
Not much is happening. Eddie Butler his given up commentating, and is now just sporadically shouting out names of Welsh players.
Andy Nicol makes a better effort of analysing a good bit of defence by George North! He can’t resist allocating him a number on the telestrator, though. “One George North! Ah! ah! ah! aaah!”
With 15 minutes left to play, Phillip Matthews is putting his money on Wales, even though they’re a point behind. [I suspect tactical underdogging for his boys from Matthews here.]
Lots of booing all of a sudden. Barnes keeps saying “Foul play against red number four,” as Donnacha Ryan writhes around on the floor in agony. The touch judge says B. Davies picked him up, rotated him and then dropped him (on his head). He [mystifyingly] recommends a yellow card. (Note that this was all completely off the ball). cf. Warburton’s tackle for which he received a red in the WC. [I suspect this card may dominate the post-match in the same way Sam’s did too.] If you ask me, Bradley should be sent off for not holding on to the ball correctly when he runs, if nothing else.
Butler points out that Wales are the worst Six Nations team at playing with 14 men. I presume this statistic doesn’t take into account their semi-final match in the WC where they played almost the entire match with only 14 men and damn near won it. [The best 14 man performance in the history of international rugby?]
Ireland prove Butler’s point though, as Kearney makes a great long pass to Bowe who scores in the corner. [A cracking move from Ireland, executed with something bordering on nonchalance I thought, and the fourth top quality try in this game.]
Eddie Butler: “Jonathan Sexton. You said boldness would win it, Phillip. He put himself into a deep position and led the orchestra.” I hope that’s a quotation from something, because if it’s not then what the hell is he talking about?2 Sexton misses.
Ireland 21 - 15 Wales
Paul James comes on for Adam Jones. I have transitioned smoothly from calm to resigned.
Ten mins left. Ireland up by six. And then they’re awarded a penalty inside their own half. Sexton has a go at it to put some more minutes on the clock, if nothing else. [Bizarre decision this, as surely equal if not more time would be used (and pressure generated) if they kicked for the corner? It’s not as if we’ve laid a hand on their lineouts all day…]
Healy comes off for Court.
Paul O’Connell makes a great take of Wales’s drop-out 22, but then concedes a penalty. Priestland makes a loong kick to the far side of the pitch and the ball goes into touch via a TV camera. Wales win their lineout and attack.
They spin it out to the left wing and then George North! bundles his way through three Irish defenders for a try. Shoddy defending, epic George North! [Excellent adjustment of angle when he received the ball by GN! there, demonstrating some real footballing intelligence. And then demonstrating some brute force to blast through the swarm of Irishmen between him and the line.]
If Halfpenny can hit this conversion from the sideline, Wales will go up by a point. But he misses it. [10 missed points from kicks…]
Ireland 21 - 20 Wales
Bradley Davies comes back on, and Ireland make some substitutions. Three minutes on the clock. Okay, I’m not quite so calm any more.
Wales attack from deep. They’re not bothering trying to wrap up Irish defenders with lots of short ball in the forwards; just spinning it out wide. They advance into the Irish 10, and then Ireland are penalised for a dangerous tackle. Stephen Ferris is sent to the sin bin, and Halfpenny has a kick for the lead. Matthews doesn’t think the tackle was dangerous. [It was certainly more on the Warburton scale than the Davies scale.] Butler disagrees. [Stony silence from Matthews.] Halfpenny makes the kick!
Ireland 21 - 23 Wales
Wales gather the restart, and then time is up. Lots of booing. Irish crowd doesn’t agree with the penalty decision. Matthews is diplomatic, saying you can’t take the victory away from the Welsh.
Final Score: Ireland 21 - 23 Wales
Sonja: “Wales, Ireland: It’s never dull, is it? Not for one, single second. And you agree with me don’t you, Leigh Halfpenny?” Inane. [There must be a stronger word to apply here? Family show though…]
Leigh Halfpenny: great rugby player, not such a great interview. Take notes, Leigh.
Jonathan Davies thinks Wales played well, although he notes the lineout wasn’t great.
The studio team watches replays of the first Welsh try in the second half. They can’t find enough superlatives to describe George North!’s contribution. It was pretty immense. [Guscott describes it as “magical” and it’s hard to argue.]
They’re also fairly incensed that Bradley Davies didn’t get a red for his tackle. [Again, hard to argue.]
Apparently RTE awarded man of the match to Mike Phillips. No no no. Did they not see George North!? [He’s hard to miss (unless you’re Fergus McFadden—zing!)] He was a beast! No-one thinks the final yellow card should’ve been given, although Jonathan Davies thinks it should have been a penalty. I’m inclined to agree with Guscott, actually, that it was a fairly innocuous tackle, but I’ll take the win nonetheless.
[I am not inclined to enter the tip tackle debate after the last four months of painstaking mental rehabilitation following the World Cup. I cannae take it. Great game though, and Davies’s “red mist” aside, about as good an advert for Northern Hemisphere rugby as you could imagine.]
Conclusion: I think, in retrospect, my unexpected calmness when Wales were down in the second half was due to the fact that during the World Cup Wales managed to convince me that they actually are a good team. This is a very odd feeling for someone who grew up watching a series of terrible and/or underachieving Welsh teams in the late ’80s and ’90s. I think it might be… confidence? Although the Irish will surely be unhappy about some of the refereeing decisions towards the end of the match, the fact that Wales looked the better team for the entire game and managed to eke out a close win seems pertinent.
Having said that, it still won’t surprise me if Wales choke in several of their remaining five matches and end the tournament in fourth place. Old beliefs die hard.