Ireland pile pressure on Pivac as Wales slip to sixth straight defeat

  • Ireland 32-9 Wales
  • Wales slump to sixth successive defeat in game of 31 penalties
Quinn Roux scores Ireland’s first try against Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Quinn Roux scores Ireland’s first try against Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photograph: Billy Stickland/INPHO/Shutterstock

A contest pockmarked by penalties and a lack of composure will have caused group rivals England few concerns. Ireland again showed an inability to react to the unexpected and were wasteful in possession in the Autumn Nations Cup opener while Wales, who slumped to a sixth successive defeat, showed spirit but still lacked an identity.

It was a mess of a game, blighted by 31 penalties. Wales at least recovered from an anonymous opening 40 minutes when they did little other than tackle, but the problems mount for their head coach, Wayne Pivac, for whom the old is dying but the new is still to be born. They showed a response after their passive display against Scotland at the end of the Six Nations, but a year after winning the grand slam and reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup they are reacting rather than setting the agenda.

It was Ireland’s third highest victory over Wales, but it should have been even more convincing. The first half was so one-sided that Wales managed only a 14% share of the territory and 23% of possession. They made a mere 10 metres with the ball in hand, but trailed only 16-6 at the interval, successfully scrambling in defence at the end of the week when the coach in charge of that area, Byron Hayward, was sacked.

Wales had more of the ball after the break when they surprised Ireland with their counter-rucking, but they did little with it and did not threaten to score a try. Their points came from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny and Pivac has reached the point when he will ask whether some of the players who served his predecessor, Warren Gatland, so assiduously and successfully are not for turning.

Ireland had to make two late changes when the full-back Jacob Stockdale pulled out with a calf strain and the second-row Iain Henderson succumbed to illness. They lost their captain Johnny Sexton, one of the few players able to see through the mist on the night, 28 minutes in to a hamstring tweak and his replacement, Billy Burns, went off injured in the second half and was replaced by a scrum-half in Conor Murray.

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It did not affect Ireland’s goal-kicking because each of the three kicked two penalties in a 100% record on the night, but for all the hard running of the debutant wing James Lowe, who scored Ireland’s second try with the final move of the match, and the No 8 Caelan Doris, they struggled to put phases together. They were not helped by the reluctance of the referee, Matthieu Raynal, to take the whistle out of his mouth: he awarded 11 penalties in the opening 20 minutes after two early skirmishes when Wales showed they were up for the fight.

George North won his 100th cap for Wales by coming off the bench in the second half.
The wing George North won his 100th cap for Wales by coming off the bench in the second half. Photograph: Billy Stickland/INPHO/Shutterstock

Ireland’s 10-point interval lead was scant reward for their dominance. Sexton’s early penalty was cancelled out by Halfpenny but with Wales struggling in the set pieces they lost four lineout throws and replaced the prop Rhys Carré before a scrum near their line a minute before the break. The home side applied all the pressure but struggled to manufacture space.

They scored one try, by Henderson’s replacement Quinn Roux after a scrum and a series of drives, but should have had at least three more: Andrew Conway was twice tackled into touch by Josh Adams, Andrew Porter failed to apply pressure after Wales lost a lineout five metres out and the ball bounced into their in-goal area. And Sexton wasted a looping break by misdirecting a pass to Lowe.

Wales reacted to a dressing room dressing down. They forced two penalties out of the full-back Hugo Keenan at the breakdown, the second of which Halfpenny kicked, but for all their endeavour, they lacked a focal point in attack. Burns’s second penalty restored Ireland’s 10-point advantage and the defence Wales had to muster in the opening 40 minutes told in the final quarter.

Murray’s two penalties confirmed victory before Lowe added a garnish. While both sides could take something from the encounter, dominance for Ireland and resistance for Wales, there was not enough to suggest either will be a match for England.

“We will need to be better again at Twickenham,” said Sexton, who hopes to be fit for next Saturday’s match. “We need to take a step up in terms of accuracy and being clinical.” For Pivac the consequences of defeat against Georgia would be severe. “We are looking to change mindsets established over 10 years and that does not happen overnight,” he said. “We believe in it and will not give up.”