I had a feeling I’d probably have to write something along these lines at some point during this Six Nations, just due to the nature of some Welsh rugby supporters more than anything.
One of my favourite pastimes after team announcements and losses is to take a peek at the murky world that is Facebook, and particularly the comments on the Welsh Rugby Union and Wales Online Rugby pages.
They were particularly good over the last weekend with the no-hopers out in force, writing Wales off as a competitive side for the rest of the Six Nations, bemoaning the appointments of Jonathan Humphreys, Byron Hayward and Wayne Pivac, and weirdly keen on suggesting Ireland were an average side.
The simple fact of the matter is that we got beaten by the better team on Saturday. The Irish were physical, accurate and clinical. They had a clear game plan, executed it to a high level and were thoroughly deserving of all five points.
From a Welsh point of view there are areas of disappointment, there’s no doubt about that.
18 handling errors, as opposed to Ireland’s seven, was a noticeable area of concern, as was making just two line breaks. The attacking shape was good enough, but poor decision making cost us opportunities to convert promising attacks into try scoring opportunities.
There was also the issue of playing in the wrong areas of the field. Almost half of our time in possession of the ball was spent in our own half, 80% outside the Ireland 22. We kicked relatively little for a time with the likes of Dan Biggar, Hadleigh Parkes and Leigh Halfpenny in its outside backs and failed to put Ireland’s backs to the wall.
In defence the work we did do was solid enough. A 94% tackle success rate, missing just 12 of 196, but we still gave up 10 line breaks as the defensive tactics decided upon were wrong, there’s no getting away from that.
Wales were set up to deal with Ireland’s physical close carrying threat but were met with another team at the start of a new era as Mike Catt got them moving the ball well to the edges and taking advantage of how narrow we were. Byron Hayward isn’t a bad coach, he just got it wrong on the day.
We were also without a consistent threat at the defensive breakdown, with Ireland going through 60% of their attacking breakdowns in three seconds or less. Being allowed to move the ball that quickly only ramps up the amount of pressure being put on the Welsh.
Finally, the lineout looked shaky for Wales on Saturday. Too much throwing to the back in windy conditions and generally scrappy ball prevented the opportunity to strike on first phase or even build a decent attacking platform.
All disappointments on the day, but nothing concerning in the long run if you’re a Wales supporter. There are no fundamental issues there, with all being fixable ahead of the visit of France to the Principality Stadium in two weeks. In fact, only one or two of those areas being improved would have seen us be very competitive on Saturday,
Make eight handling errors instead of 18 and we’d have manufactured a number of dangerous attacking chances. Win two more turnovers on the floor and we could stunted the Irish attack enough to prevent the game getting away from us. It’s all fine margins in international rugby.
At the start of this new era under Wayne Pivac and his coaching team those fine margins might go against us at times as they did on Saturday, and they will do again I have no doubt. Maybe in this Six Nations, probably in New Zealand this summer and even stretching into the Autumn Internationals.
However, any suggestion that Wales have somehow regressed dramatically after two games of this new era are wildly inaccurate.
Under Warren Gatland we only won twice in Ireland, and you may well remember a defeat in 2018 after a similarly disappointing performance to that we saw on Saturday, and in 2014 when it was a decidedly worse performance to that we saw on Saturday.
Let’s take stock, enjoy a week away from the Six Nations and prepare for France in Cardiff in two weeks. The bounce back is on!