Joe Schmidt is known to accept nothing less than perfection on the pitch. It came as a surprise then when Wales completely bossed his side around the park, and the final whistle blew without Ireland really firing a shot. There are good reasons why this Wales v Ireland fixture went the way it did, and we will reveal them to you here.
It starts with Ireland losing the set-piece capabilities they’re so well known for. But how did Wales accomplish this when so many teams have failed?
Removing The Biggest Threat | Wales v Ireland
Joe Schmidt is a set piece genius, as we have covered in depth before. The set piece then became priority number one for Wales to win. Here’s how they did it.
In the below scrum, Wales win the initial hit. They then swivel the scrum around to upset Ireland’s platform.
Whether entirely legal or not, Wales get away with it. But Ireland were determined to keep moving through their chess-move set piece, that was no doubt designed to tear the Welsh defence apart.
It turns out they were trying a switch move. Aki tries to find the gap, but he gets clobbered by some forwards that may not have been there if the scrum hadn’t wheeled.
As the game wore on Aki began getting visibly frustrated. He couldn’t play his game during set pieces or phase play due to Welsh disruption. And he wasn’t the only one.
In this next scrum, Wales do exactly the same thing. Murray continues with the plan, but Keith Earls ends up being very well defended. He puts in a kick from this unfavourable position, which results in a net gain for Wales.
Ireland needed to do something with these attacking platforms, but that left-screwing scrum constantly denied them their greatest weapon. And if you want to see what could have happened, in the below article we break down some classic Joe Schmidt power-plays.
Warren Gatland was an All Blacks hooker himself, which goes a long way to explaining how Wales did so well in this area. But Ireland would have another weakness in a different part of the game as well, and the player in question might surprise you.
The One Player Wales Targeted Over And Over | Wales v Ireland
Wales went into this game with the intention of kicking to one player in particular. Right from the first kickoff, the ball went into the arms of Jacob Stockdale.
He was muscled over the sideline straight away, and at that moment Wales began a campaign to erode his confidence. But why Stockdale of all players? It’s likely Warren Gatland knew Stockdale only has a 65% success rate in the air.
Stockdale was continuously put under the pump. And although he did well to take many of these catches, he was always put under enormous pressure by the chasing defenders.
In contrast, Ireland did not target a particular player with kicks. And even if they had wanted to, Wales left them with no options.
Here Sexton kicks off, and when we see the Welsh setup it becomes clear that they have monster punters across the park. Anscombe, Biggar and Davies are positioned so that one of them can return fire no matter what.
In this instance Anscombe kicks straight away, keeping the ball out of Wales’ half. Wales would now trust their defence to do the business. And it did.
All of this would culminate in some very senior Irish players losing composure, and the game would be all but won.
The Moment When Ireland Lost Control | Wales v Ireland
As the game wore on and Wales maintained the upper hand, some of Ireland’s best players began faltering. Here Murray tries to drop this box-kick next to the sideline, but it goes out on the full.
Likewise, Sexton would put this one out on the full as well.
These kicks are extremely difficult to pull off at this level for sure. But we have gotten so used to seeing these two players kick these to perfection over and over that this lack of composure seems out of place.
At the stroke of half-time, Sexton would throw the ball away in anger while Irish captain Rory Best struggled to talk to the referee. Wales’ psychological advantage was cemented.
Where do you think Ireland can improve for the World Cup? We would love to hear your thoughts down below.
Author: The 1014 Rugby and Henry Stokes