Ireland vs. Wales: Score and Lessons Learned from Six Nations Clash

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

Ireland vs. Wales: Score and Lessons Learned from Six Nations Clash

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    Wales' bid to win a historic third successive Six Nations championship went off course with a 26-3 loss to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

    Ireland were a clinical beast on their way to maintaining a 100 percent to their campaign, and Warren Gatland's visitors were simply not able to stand up to the challenge placed in front of them.

    The win means that Ireland's international resurgence under Joe Schmidt continues, with a raft of learning points emerging from the Dublin duel.

1. The Power's in the Pack

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    In a meeting of this magnitude and given the names involved, talk often tends to gravitate toward the backline in terms of discussion over where the game is decided.

    However, even with the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Roberts and George North featuring, it was the forwards who took a stronger hold of matters at the Aviva Stadium.

    The Irish ruck and maul was some of the hosts' most fruitful work, with Joe Schmidt's front eight exposing their Welsh counterparts, and Chris Henry's 31st-minute try from a line-out summing up the tightly fought first period.

    While Richard Hibbard, Alun-Wyn Jones and Taulupe Faletau did their best to return the very physical gestures, Ireland were savvy to tuck the ball within their pack for long stretches, producing a patient and clinical win as a result.

2. Joe Schmidt's Hopefuls Holding Their Own

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    This Ireland setup is one of transition, with Schmidt doing his best to replace the departing old guard with faces both old and new to the international fold.

    It's a venture that appears to be going to plan, too, with the icons of years gone by being replaced by fresh, emerging faces whom the head coach has placed his faith in.

    Andrew Trimble, Devin Toner, Chris Henry and Dave Kearney are just some examples of those players coming into their first genuine patches of consistent inclusion in the Ireland team, stepping up to their respective plates in a major way this weekend.

    After enjoying such a rousing rise to global prominence in recent years, it's only natural that the Irish would have some concern over their more experienced faces beginning to ease toward the exit door.

    However, the up-and-coming staples of this new-look squad are staking their claims to also accomplish big things in what could be the start of something great under Schmidt.

3. Ireland's Ruck Restraint Proves Pivotal

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    Ireland's win over Wales was a pragmatic and well-thought-out performance, the battle of strategy in turn giving this weekend's Dublin hosts the means for an emphatic boost in the standings.

    One very prominent aspect of these tactics was the choice to limit numbers at the ruck, a battleground where the boys in green ran particularly rampant.

    Instead, Ireland made a conscious decision to make more potent attempts at stripping the opposition of the ball, with Peter O'Mahony leading the charge with a rousing number of turnovers and forced penalties.

    As a result, Schmidt had more men in the line to help quell Wales' threat in the backs while still managing to hold their own at the breakdown, even going as far as to win most.

4. Wales' Lack of Discipline Tells a Tale

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    By the time 25 minutes had passed on Saturday, Wales had already conceded seven penalties to their opposition, while Ireland had managed a more acceptable total of just two.

    It was an aspect of the game that would ring throughout, with the visitors struggling to match their less-than-hospitable hosts in tenacity and precision.

    As far as Ireland are concerned, this was far from the most glamorous display, but the home team chipped away at the scoreboard with their choice kicks, gradually moving out of Welsh sight.

    In the end, that frustration only led to more profligacy from Gatland's men, with frustration finding its place and simply gifting Jonny Sexton his chances all too often.

5. Paul O'Connell's Presence Paramount to Ireland's Title Hopes

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    Having only recently penned a two-year contract extension with Munster, Paul O'Connell seems just about ready to keep his international career running for some years to come.

    And making his return to Schmidt's fold this weekend, the second row took little time in making his impact on the team, who look all the more efficient with him in their ranks.

    Although O'Connell was limited to just 53 minutes before coming off, that was all that was needed for the second-row's contributions to take their toll on Wales.

    The 34-year-old brought his typically boss-like presence to the line-out, making 10 tackles during the display, and adding a much-needed sense of wisdom to the side just when they needed it most.

6. Welsh Depth a Cause for Concern

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    With a clean bill of health, Wales are one of the most talented teams in the world, that much isn't up for debate.

    But a fully fit squad has been nigh impossible to come upon in this year's Six Nations, and the injury issues are beginning to have their say on the Welsh hopes.

    An early injury to Scott Williams meant that George North had to fill in at outside centre on Saturday, while Liam Williams took up his duties on the wing.

    The likes of Paul James, Justin Tipuric, Rhodri Jones and James Hook all boast a certain pedigree in the international ranks, but the jury's out on whether or not Ken Owens, Jake Ball and Rhys Webb are up to the task.

    While Schmidt was able to rely upon his introductions, the same can't be said for Gatland, with injuries obviously taking their toll on the starting XV, too.

    Andrew Coombs was impressive for parts in his pursuit of providing a stopgap for the injured Luke Charteris, while Williams' injury has now created further concern in the centres for the weeks to come.