Player ratings: This was predicted
OPINION: The RugbyPass Index was spot on tipping Wales to seal the Grand Slam deal, its pre-game percentages suggesting the odds were tilted 67 to 33 in favour of the hosts.
In reality, the gap between the sides was even more of a chasm as Ireland nearly fell to their worst margin of defeat ever in the Joe Schmidt era.
That record had stood at -23, the gap when they lost in Cardiff to Argentina in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup, and but for Jordan Larmour’s 83rd minute try, there would have been new benchmark of a 25-point loss set back in the Welsh capital.
Even worse, they were nearly humiliatingly held scoreless for the first time since New Zealand kept them to zero when hammered in Hamilton in 2012 when Declan Kidney was still at the helm.
Not only did their ill-disciplined 7-25 defeat leave Wales succeeding them as Grand Slam champions, it also ensured that Warren Gatland’s championship record in charge of Wales finished better off than Ireland’s under Schmidt. The win allowed Gatland to sign off with a 72% success record, 36 wins in 50 Six Nations outings, compared to his Kiwi rival’s 70% for 21 wins in 30 spring matches.
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Ireland had been a shadow of their 2018 selves throughout the 2019 championship, their poise shaken and stirred by England pouncing for that explosive try in the opening minutes of the opening game in Dublin.
They thought they had rediscovered some semblance of form with their victory last Sunday over struggling France. However, teams on a six-day turnaround in this championship more often lose their next match and this was the case here, Ireland never recovering from the concession of Hadleigh Parkes’ try just 69 seconds after the start.
The inability of the Irish pack to wield an influence made a mockery of Ireland’s insistence that the Principality Stadium roof remained open. The wet conditions threw them completely out of synch and they were second-best all through in the rain.
The insipid manner of the loss will now generate fears that Schmidt has lost his vice-like grip on the squad as Ireland’s dip in performance has coinciding with the coach announcing at the end of 2018 he will be stepping down after this year’s World Cup in Japan.
He will pause for breath first, though, and will need to be forensic in his review of this abject performance where the accuracy and intent of far too many Ireland players left much to be desired.
Liam Heagney rates the Irish players!
15. ROB KEARNEY – 5
A last-minute cry-off last Sunday in Dublin, he endured a worrying start in Cardiff as he drifted to the right in the opening-minute penalty advantage play for Wales. The hole he left was exploited by Gareth Anscombe’s kick over the top for Parkes to score. Kearney arrived too late to get in a try-stopping hit. The defensive door did shut after that, but an irreversible pattern for the match was set.
14. KEITH EARLS – 6
Josh Adams should have been carded for illegally taking the legs from under him on a early chase. He made a tidy catch on 26 minutes as Wales rushed a clearance to keep Ireland on the attack in the spell ruined by CJ Stander’s quick-tap debacle. He also saved a try on 60 minutes with his chase back to tidy up a kick ahead at the expense of a five-metre scrum. Did his basics well unlike so many others.
13 GARRY RINGROSE – 4
The over-the-top Irish media love-fest with this guy in the wake of last Sunday’s win over France set him up for a major fall. The truth about his display six days ago was that he was defensively shy when it came to tackling and while he wasn’t found out in that sector here, there was no redeeming contributions elsewhere on this occasion. His best-forgotten display was summed up a late loss of possession near the Wales line.
12. BUNDEE AKI – 4
Was shown up for being completely static and heavy-footed in failing to turn quickly enough to defend Anscombe’s chip over the top for the try. He coped much better with a second kick through, grasping the possession and shipping an illegal blow from Gareth Davies that left the referee reversing a penalty award. Could never rise above the collective average, though, and was left scrapping for scraps firmly in the shadow of the Parkes, the superior Kiwi midfielder.
11. JACOB STOCKDALE – 5
Was tackled into touch on taking the kick-off and then beaten in the air near the end of the opening half by Dan Biggar when he should have gathered. He did take a brilliant catch from Johnny Sexton’s seventh minute cross-kick penalty and while he eluded Davies, Parkes’ flying tackle floored him and dislodged the ball. Featured little in the second half.
10. JOHNNY SEXTON – 4
Was back to looking a pale shadow of the influence who topped the charts all through 2018. Was penalised for sealing off after a Stockdale take led to a ruck. Then gave Anscombe his shot to make it 10-0. His petulant end to the first half, where he angrily threw the ball away after the Irish scrum coughed up another penalty, was followed by a terrible opening to the second half where he kicked balls out on the full and over the dead ball line. He then signed off with a silly mix-up on a switch play with Kearney. Needs a long look at himself in the mirror.
9. CONOR MURRAY – 4
Looked a troubled soul for the entire 70 minutes he was on the field, fuelling rumours that the neck injury he had at the start of the season really has impacted on his confidence and restricted the range of his usually world-class contribution. Two first-half incidents summed up his current negativity – a 30th minute knock-on when lineout ball squirmed loose and then a kick that went out on the full eight minutes later after Ireland brought the ball back inside their 22. He also lost control near the Wales try line on 57 minutes.
1. CIAN HEALY – 5
Struggled at the outset for precision in the wet. It was his knock-on that killed Ireland’s first visit to the Welsh 22 and while he redeemed himself quickly by forcing a Davies spill, he gave up an offside penalty on 10 minutes. Come the second-half, he was harshly penalised on 47 minutes for Wales to go 19-points clear and was pulled from the fray by the 59th minute.
2. RORY BEST – 4
Will look back on this outing with a heap of regrets. The Ireland skipper needed to get his team to start well and they didn’t. He had his own issues at the lineout in terms of accuracy and he will be chastened that his normally squeaky-clean side gave up eight penalties in the first-half. Looked like he is in need of a decent break to ensure he can peak for his World Cup farewell.
3. TADHG FURLONG – 5
One of those afternoons where his usual high level of influence disappeared amid the collective rot that was an Ireland pack that failed to fire a proper shot. There were scrum penalties that will cause annoyance, as will an offside that also cost points. He’s another player who played through the championship with the appearance of a top-class operator in need of a battery recharge.
4. TADHG BEIRNE – 5
His inclusion for a first Six Nations start had left the Welsh seriously worried due to his turnover ability at the breakdown, a skill he had honed during his stint at Scarlets. He gave his pack some great encouragement on 12 minutes when he pilfered ball at the ruck away from Ken Owens, but he didn’t have enough support on other occasions to successfully made a few more raids. His influence gradually waned and the loss of a ball when tackled on 59 minutes by Adam Beard was his last act.
5. JAMES RYAN – 6
Can’t be happy that his first occasion at calling the Irish lineout didn’t come off perfectly. However, the youngster offered so much in other facets that he became one of the rare few shining lights on a dim day in Cardiff. He was the guy in the Irish pack who made more metres than anyone else, a sign of his refusal to give up amid going that was the toughest he has experienced during his short professional career.
6. PETER O’MAHONY – 5
Looked to have potentially made a big early impact when his arrival at a Stockdale ruck resulted in the injury that ended George North’s match. However, that was about as influential as his influence got on a day where the Irish back row just didn’t have the sufficient fight within them to withstand the winning Welsh momentum.
7. SEAN O’BRIEN – 3
Axed after anonymous effort in Rome, Josh van der Flier’s French injury opened the door for him to take on a Gatland-coached side for the first time since his incendiary Lions training comments. However, he was painfully gone from the scene as early as the 52nd minute to be replaced by Jack Conan. He cut an anonymous figure, his sluggishness apparent from the opening act as he couldn’t sprint up quick enough to cut down Anscombe’s angle for the try-creating kick. His best days look a long, long way away.
8. CJ STANDER – 4
A machine six days earlier, the Welsh saw him coming all day long in the Cardiff wet. There were some glaring errors. There was the terrible mistake on 28 minutes of making a mess of a quickly tapped free. He then soon failed to grasp ball at the front of the lineout, and was also to blame for the 53rd minute penalty that allowed the Welsh to go 22 points clear. Physically, he didn’t have the necessary penetration.