Rugby Union: Wales gift it to Gatland

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VICTORY WAS all that mattered in this game and no one can complain, least of all Wales, that it was Ireland who gratefully grabbed it with both hands. Wales' spectacular burst of action in the second half raised hopes but, for the first time in a long time, the Irish managed to prevent another travesty of justice by beating off the Welsh comeback and confirming their win.

Warren Gatland's team now await England in Dublin a week on Saturday in what promises to be a ferocious clash of forward power, but the Irish backs will have to improve on their finishing. England might not be as generous with the gifts as Wales were yesterday.

Both the Irish tries came directly from bad mistakes made by a Welsh team who could have won had they not been so inefficient in key areas and at key moments. There are three words that have to be hammered into Welsh skulls before their final two games in Paris and against England at Wembley - lineouts, discipline, turnovers.

Towards the end yesterday, Wales were getting to grips with their lineout play and the try scored by Craig Quinnell off Chris Wyatt's tap-down was a classic example of good lineout work. But most of what had gone before at the jumping was hopeless and this was the basis of Irish superiority for most of the game.

Apart from the platform Ireland gained from their control of the lineouts, it allowed David Humphreys the freedom of the park to set up his man-of- the-match display. He could put kicks into touch pretty well secure in the knowledge that his jumpers had a fair chance of recapturing possession. That is as big a boost to a team as it is a millstone around the necks of the opposition. Wales didn't even bother to contest the Irish throws and hardly looked capable of contesting their own at times.

Discipline was another failing. Wales must have known how physical it was going to be out there - Jeremy Davidson's big hit on Scott Quinnell in the opening minutes set the tone for the rest of the game - so why get riled into throwing punches? Craig Quinnell gave Ireland a three-point start by throwing a punch that caused the referee to reverse a penalty decision. It was by no means the only instance of unnecessary wildness and this is a feature of the Welsh game that must be cleaned up quickly.

As for the turnovers, once again they were the biggest source of heartbreak for the Welsh fans. Movements flowed promisingly along the Welsh line only to die for a lack of control while an overlap beckoned. The Irish made mistakes as well but their's did not prove to be so costly.

The Quinnell brothers again looked fearsome with ball in hand but they must concentrate on retaining possession at the crucial moment. It's a habit the entire Welsh team have to acquire. When it worked, it worked well, and no-one can argue that the Welsh tries were brilliantly created. Shane Howarth, who had a much better game than against Scotland, applied an excellent finish to a move that showed how good Wyatt can be in the loose.

I'm not questioning the quality of Keith Woods' typically rampaging try, but it must be pointed out that it came straight from a Welsh bungle in a promising position. As for the first Irish try, this came from Humphreys charging down an attempted kick by Neil Jenkins. If Jenkins is going to play so flat, charge-downs are a danger he is going to have to live with.

Wales also played too flat out wide. There's got to be some depth to take advantage of these flowing movements.

There was no doubt about the choice of Humphreys as the game's most influential player. The French game was such a disappointment for him that I feared his confidence might have been effected. But the arrival of the winger Niall Woods as a replacement kicker in the Irish armoury had the effect of stabilising Humphreys. Knowing you have a back-up does help the confidence and he was almost perfect.

His decision-making was also spot-on and the two drop-goals he put over in the second half were killers. He missed with a third attempt but he was right to try it.

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