Wales sink to new depths of ineptitude

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Ireland 24

Wales 23

In what was a dire advertisement for the Five Nations' Championship, Ireland defeated Wales at Ellis Park last night to earn a quarter-final in the World Cup against France in Durban next Saturday. Today, Wales catch a flight home, but such was their ineptitude last night that it's possible they might even miss that.

The scoreline is misleading. At one point the crowd, who had entertained themselves with a Mexican wave to relieve the boredom, booed the teams. No matter how bad things were, Wales somehow discovered ways of making them worse. This was easily the worst match so far in the World Cup: lack of ambition, lack of talent, lack of flair.

Ireland, in fairness, defended stoutly once Wales managed to get a little momentum going, but this was a crucial game that the Welsh should have won. In the first half they appeared to suffer from stage fright.

It would have been a comedy of errors but for the fact that the consequences for Wales are almost too painful to contemplate. A defeat by Western Samoa in Cardiff four years ago, when they also failed to qualify for the latter stages of the World Cup, was bad enough, but this was even more wretched.

Wales, following a dismal Five Nations in which they were beaten 16-12 by Ireland in Cardiff, had taken a huge gamble in dismissing the management and opting for the Cardiff connection and their coach, the Australian Alex Evans. The gamble badly misfired. Ireland caught Wales cold with a try from Nick Popplewell in the second minute. Eric Elwood found a brilliant touch, Gabriel Fulcher won the line-out and Popplewell was driven over through a disorganised defence.

Ireland's second try after 17 minutes was one of the softest ever scored in international rugby. Paddy Johns, the No 8, yelled for the ball at the tail of the line but in fact Terry Kingston's throw found Denis McBride at the tail and the flanker tore through the heart of what was masquerading as the Welsh defence. McBride went to ground at one stage, regained his feet and carried on to score near the posts. The Welsh were dumbstruck.

Gradually Wales, who had the more powerful and fresher pack, came back into the game and had cut the deficit to 14-6 by half-time. However, their tactics were inexplicable. They insisted on taking long drop-outs which simply enabled Ireland to bang the ball back with interest. Neil Jenkins was equally inept at centre and, but for the fact that he is a goalkicker, there would surely be no place for him.

Ireland lost McBride with a head injury after 65 minutes and no sooner had Eddie Halvey replaced him than he was in the thick of the action. An isolated but spirited drive from Ireland led to Johns slipping a pass to Halvey and the flanker crashed over for Ireland's third try which Elwood again converted.

Trailing 21-9, Wales, with 10 minutes to go, desperately began a salvage operation. Anthony Clement created a try for Jonathan Humphreys and in the fourth minute of injury time Hemi Taylor went through a bedraggled Irish defence. In between Elwood landed a penalty and that turned out to be a lifeline for the Irish, who will have to raise their game considerably if they are to stand a chance against the French.

Mike Hall, the Wales captain, said: "I can't explain what happened in the first 20 minutes. It is beyond me. In the dressing room we were pumped up and the feeling was right. I can't describe how I feel."

As one of the hosts, Wales do not have to qualify for the 1999 World Cup. Hall added: "We should start planning now as we should have planned in 1991 for this World Cup."

Alex Evans said: "We desperately need an organisation for the game in Wales. Too many clubs play with different styles. There is no pattern."

Ireland: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); R Wallace (Garryowen), B Mullin (Blackrock College), J Bell (Ballymena), S Geoghegan (Bath); E Elwood (Lansdowne), N Hogan (Terenure); N Popplewell (Wasps), T Kingston (Dolphin, capt), G Halpin (London Irish), G Fulcher (Cork Constitution), N Francis (Old Belvedere), D Corkery (Cork Constitution), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone). Replacement: E Halvey (Shannon) for McBride, 65.

Wales: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli), M Hall (Cardiff, capt), N Jenkins (Pontypridd), G Thomas (Bridgend); A Davies (Cardiff), R Jones (Swansea); M Griffiths (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff), J Davies (Neath), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), D Jones (Cardiff), S Davies (Swansea), E Lewis (Cardiff), H Taylor (Cardiff). Replacement: R Evans (Llanelli) for J Davies, 80.

Referee: Ian Rogers (SA).