The latest edition of the Six Nations Championship got underway in Dublin with Ireland taking on defending champions Wales.
Wales came in with a host of players missing through injury and soon found themselves defending in their own 22 against an Irish onslaught, which eventually ended in debutant Mack Hansen floating a lovely ball out to Bundee Aki to score in the corner. The Irish were by far the stronger team, but struggled to turn this early superiority into points, with Jonathan Sexton following up a difficult but successful conversion with 2 missed penalties from far easier positions before finally adding 3 points off the tee to pass Owen Farrell for the third-most points in Six Nations history (behind just Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O’Gara). As the half went on though, some errors from the home team allowed the Welsh to start growing into the game and with a 10-0 halftime score, the fixture looked far from over.
Unfortunately for the Welsh, the second half started much like the first, with the Irish going through the phases in the Welsh 22, and after a poor ball was played out to Andrew Conway—who was forced to step in to take it—the Munster wing’s clever stop-go gave him the chance to angle to the corner flag, and through he was tackled he just managed to stretch to the line. Things soon got even worse for the defending champions as Josh Adams was sent to the bin for a shoulder barge off the ball on Sexton, and the men in green wasted no time in sending Conway over for a second try, before Garry Ringrose went over on the counterattack at the very end of the sin bin period. With the game over as a competition, the question became “will Wales score a point?”. And they finally did with 5 minutes left as Taine Basham intercepted Tadgh Beirne’s offload (one blot on a otherwise brilliant performance for the former Scarlet) to cross under the posts for a 29-7 bonus point win for Andy Farrell’s men.
While Ireland certainly carried on where they left off and were clearly the stronger team, they will certainly look back at this match and know that they can be better.
Granted conditions were typically British (wet and windy), but the men in green found a number of attacks coming to an early end due to handling errors. Meanwhile a couple of strong attacking positions were ruined by poor setting of the maul deep in the Welsh 22, including one which saw Caelan Doris pinged for obstruction. And then of course we have that offload from Beirne which in hindsight was never on and cost the team a deserved clean sheet.
Of course this is just week 1, and that means that we will likely just see improvements from the Irish as he tournament goes on. If they can cut out the errors, they will be turning into a real force in Test rugby again and be putting themselves in with a good shout of challenging for the Championship despite having to play away to rivals France and England.
Sometimes you look at the team sheet and can already see that it’s going to be a difficult game. That was the case when I looked at this Welsh line-up. Of course with the number of injuries Wales had, it was always going to be difficult, but the moment I saw Josh Adams named at 13, I could not see beyond an Irish victory.
13 is arguably one of the most important positions in professional rugby. You need to be a real all-rounder: pacy, good stamina, able to kick and pass very well, a reliable tackler, a great communicator and highly organised both in attack and defence. And while Josh Adams is many of these, he is not experienced at the position, especially at Test level.
While he may have coped had Wales been the dominant attacking team, they were instead struggling to cross the gain line in attack, while defensively, Adams was targeted by the Irish, who repeatedly challenged either his inside or outside shoulder and repeatedly found themselves getting over the gain line. Though it’s no excuse, I’m sure there was a large degree of frustration involved in Adams’ awful shoulder charge on Sexton, which arguably killed the game off as the Welsh not only lost a decent field position but also shipped 12 points while he was of the pitch.
While Adams at 13 was far from the only issue that needs addressing following such a poor performance, it is an easy one to fix. If Wales want to win against Scotland next week, they need to play Adams where he plays best and bring in a specialist centre to shore up the midfield.