Jonathan Davies: Ireland brought down as Jones leads forwards march on Slam

Captain the hero as Welsh show style and steel in Dublin to put Gatland on brink of hero status
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Wales's charge to the Triple Crown has been as stylish as it has been steely and this was their best performance so far. It was the hardest and most physical task they have faced but they dominated Ireland with an icy, intelligent control that was in no way reflected in the scoreline.

Several times a promising move was only one pass away from a try-scoring conclusion, and the try they did score through the typical brilliance of Shane Williams seemed scant reward for their superiority.

I firmly believe that this Welsh team can now go on to beat France at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday and win the Grand Slam. What an achievement that would be considering how bedraggled they looked after the World Cup last year.

One of the main contributing factors to that is the amount of self-belief that Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards, the coaches,have installed in this team. The players believe in themselves and in each other, and that was very important at certain stages in this game.

Wales's defence against Ireland's pick-and-drive tactic was excellent, as was their kicking game. It is a great compliment to the Welsh that they spent 20 minutes of the game down to 14 men and not only held their own during these spells but strengthened their domination.

The decisions of the referee, Wayne Barnes, tended to go against them too but they shook off this and every other challenge to their control of matters.

The way the Welsh forwards played against a much-vaunted Irish pack laid the foundation for that control. I thought they were massive, and the captain, Ryan Jones, played a hero's part in it all. The No 8 must have run the wing Shane Williams close for the man-of-the-match award. Shane was terrific, and the way he stood in at scrum-half when Mike Phillips was in the sin-bin shows what a great all-round footballer he is.

Phillips was another who could have qualified as the most valuable player. Ireland only once came anywhere near scoring a try, when the giant Shane Hogan slipped Shane Williams and looked certain to power over the try-line. Phillips not only hit Horgan with a real crunching tackle but also ensured that he didn't stretch out to touch down the ball.

The yellow card Phillips was shown for putting his knee into the back of the prop Marcus Horan won't look good on his record, but I did think that it was a harsh decision. Phillips applied his knee to help persuade Horanto release the ball he was killing. If anyone should have been in the sin-bin it was the Irish prop.

I can't offer any defence for the trip that got Martin Williams his 10 minutes in the cooler, but if any crime should have been punished yesterday it was Bernard Jackman's dangerous charge into the unguarded back of Ryan Jones.

The Wales full-back, Lee Byrne, played out of his skin again, not putting a foot wrong, while at No 10 Stephen Jones controlled things well when Wales were up against it in the first half, and it was his pass that set up Shane Williams for his 40th try in international rugby.

In defence and attack, Tom Shanklin and Gavin Henson put in another tremendous shift in the centre. Ireland took the sting out of the start of the game by crabbing down the field in a succession of slow phases, hoping to stifle their opponents. It didn'twork. The Welsh defence at this stage was superb. Ireland just couldn't get past the tackling.

The only way they looked like scoring was through Welsh indiscipline and Wales did offer Ronan O'Gara a couple of looks at goal which he took gratefully.With Stephen Jones missingtwo out of three, the scoreline stayed in Ireland's favour until the interval.

Wales had ample chance to be leading at that time. Stephen Jones threw two passes forward and several good moves came to nothing, but you couldsense that Wales were taking command of the game.

You felt that Wales would be under the cosh at start of the second half but, despite being down to 14 men and facing the wind, they actually took the game to Ireland.

O'Gara must have been the most frustrated man on the park. Despite the accuracy of his kicks at goal he was unable to establish the control he wanted. Wales made him work for every inch of space, throwing men forward into his face, making himtackle and gradually wearing him down.

It is fascinating watching this Wales team grow in stature as they proceed through the Six Nations. I'm not sure how much more they can improve, but they are a long way from the end of their journey.

Comments