The newest tournament on the international rugby calendar got underway this evening in Dublin as Ireland and Wales kicked off the Autumn Nations Cup in Dublin.
After a confrontational opening quarter in which Johnny Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny each scored a penalty, Ireland found themselves on the Welsh try line and Quinn Roux – a late call-up to the starting line-up following Iain Henderson’s illness – managed to power himself the last few inches for the opening try, which was converted by Sexton. Sexton added another penalty but this was one of Sexton’s last impacts on the game as he was removed with a hamstring injury, and a change in the tides at the scrum soon saw Wales get back within a try through the boot of Leigh Halfpenny. The Irish dominance in open play continued however, and replacement fly half Billy burns soon opened his account on his debut with a penalty to bring the score to 16-6, with Andrew Porter just failing to dot down the ball over the line right before the break after issues at the Welsh lineout.
The Welsh had been very much the second team in the first half but they started slightly more positively after the break, with a Leigh Halfpenny penalty from halfway dropping just short, before another bisected the posts. That was as good as things got for Wales as Gareth Davies found his box kick charged down by Caelan Doris, who kept the ball in play for Cian Healy, who was held up over the line by Taulupe Faletau, but the Irish domination continued and with Wales creating very little, Billy Burns pulled the Irish away with another penalty and Conor Murray added 2 of his own after Burns was forced off the pitch. With the game secured and the clock ticking down, a strong Irish scrum in the 22 allowed Caelan Doris to pick off the base and offload to James Lowe, who had the strength to cross the line to cap off his international debut with a try, coverted by Murray for a final score of 32-9.
Lowe risk, high reward
James Lowe is a player who I have had my eye on for years, dating back to his time with the Chiefs in New Zealand. With his scoring record and blend of pace and power, I’ve always rated him and now that he has completed his residency period in Ireland, he has been able to show just what he can do on the international scene.
While his defence and covering of kicks could be improved, what he brings is good pace, but incredible power. If you give him half a gap he will punch through it and if you don’t get him down, he will continue to power himself on as long as he can, which he did to great effect in this game, needing multiple tacklers to bring him down and still only after making positive metres. He was arguably one of the most dangerous men on the pitch in this game and it was only right that he finished the game with a try, taking the ball from Caelan Doris as he came off the scrum and forcing his way over the line to embarrass the Welsh defence on first phase ball.
I suggested recently that the trio of Lowe, Conway and Keenan could prove effective for Ireland, with Keenan and Conway being elusive runners and more technical players, and Lowe providing the extra physical edge. With their success in this game despite a late call-up for Conway, the trio should be given the time to build a relationship together as a unit and kept the same through the coming weeks.
I can’t help feel for Rhys Carré in this game. The Cardiff Blues loosehead suffered a torrid time in the opening quarter, being dominated at the scrum by Andrew Porter. Credit to the youngster though, he did not let his head drop despite a number of early penalties and in fact managed to fight back at the scrum despite the bad early look he gave referee Mathieu Reynal, and in fact managed to earn party and even a couple of penalties. And then suddenly he was yanked from the pitch just seconds before the end of the half to be replaced by the “better scrummager” Wyn Jones.
Now I could have understood this replacement in the opening 20 minutes as Carré’s early struggles in the scrum will paint a negative impression in the officials’ minds, but when the coaches chose to keep him on and he fought back in the scrum, he earned the chance to play the full starting role and there was absolutely no need to take him off with a scrum 5m from the try line with just seconds left in the half.
And did it really improve the game? Wyn Jones may have had some success, but the real improvement in the Welsh scrum didn’t come until Samson Lee came on at tighthead, while Wyn Jones ended up conceding the same amount of penalties as Carré.
At just 22 years old, Carré is still some years off of his prime. Hopefully getting the early shepherd’s crook here doesn’t negatively affect his development.