Ireland 16 Wales 16 reaction: Eddie Jones’ England the big winners on Six Nations opening weekend

Both sides blew chances in Dublin and handed the early advantage to Jones' men

Rob Cole
Aviva Stadium
Sunday 07 February 2016 21:01
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Taulupe Faletau scores Wales’ try against Ireland
Taulupe Faletau scores Wales’ try against Ireland

Any draw at international level is unpalatable. And it’s difficult to know which of the two New Zealanders, Joe Schmidt or Warren Gatland, would have felt the more content in Dublin. But whatever the two Kiwi coaches thought in the aftermath of a titanic struggle between the teams who have won the last four Six Nations titles, their England counterpart, Eddie Jones, will no doubt have had a chuckle to himself at full-time.

The major beneficiaries of yesterday’s result at the Aviva Stadium were France and England, who won their opening games, and Jones knows that England still have to receive both teams at Twickenham. Get past Italy next week and the title could be in their own hands.

If the Irish had suffered major disruptions in the build-up to the game, losing five British & Irish Lions, Wales fell foul of the injury curse on the day of the game, when Gareth Anscombe was pulled out and Liam Williams was forced to make only his second appearance since the World Cup.

There was no problem with Williams, but when Wales lost their outside-half Dan Biggar with an ankle injury after 21 minutes it looked as though the gods were against them. But Rhys Priestland stepped into the breach and scored with all four kicks at goal.

The Wales captain, Sam Warburton, had urged his team to “burst the balloon” by silencing the usually raucous Dublin crowd early on, but Wales failed to do so. The Irish, all hustle and bustle as usual, raced into a 13-point lead and looked to be in control.

But the pessimism within Ireland over their chances of retaining their title for a second successive year, and go on to become the first team since 1883 to win a hat-trick of consecutive championship titles, began to grip the crowd as Wales started to control possession and looked the most likely of the teams to go on to win.

The Aviva Stadium certainly did not feel like the home of the champions and the Irish will have felt that, having taken a 13-point lead, they should have gone on to win the game. They did not and now the championship is wide open.

Warburton put on a brave face in his post-match interviews, talking about the fact that his side have three home games out of their next four, but he knew his team had blown a golden chance to pick up another Grand Slam. Wins at Twickenham, regardless of what happened in the World Cup, are few and far between for Wales, and so this draw could be a fatal flaw in their title hopes.

The Irish will be hoping that Jonny Sexton remains fully fit throughout the championship, because he really was at the heart of everything Ireland did well. He left the field holding his shoulder and also took a couple of big blows in the heat of a red-hot battle.

What he provides, in tandem with his half-back partner Conor Murray, who scored the Irish try, is a clear head and superb on-field direction.

Having lost Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson to injury in the past six months, and Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and Paul O’Connell to retirements in the past two seasons, the last thing the Irish can handle is losing a player of Sexton’s calibre.

A draw in Dublin means the advantage goes to England and France. The question now is, can they ram home that advantage?

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