So my prediction came to pass and Wales did indeed face Ireland in a 2011 RWC quarter final. Hardly a sage-like premonition from me after Ireland's outstanding win against the Aussies. I knew that Wales were a good side, built on a base of talented youngsters, and that Ireland were also a quality side, but 10 years older - no crystal ball required.
What I did not foresee was just how good Wales would be. Like many 'proper' pundits I saw this game as a close fought thing, perhaps decided by 1-4 points either way. Ireland played well, well enough to dispatch any Wales side since perhaps the 2005 vintage, but Wales played better, 12 points better according to the scoreboard. Ireland threw the kitchen sink, the fridge, the Aga and the oak table at Wales and all were rebuffed. At no point did I ever feel like Wales would lose; that is a truly alien feeling to any Welsh rugby fan. Even when we win we like to dice with defeat, but not today.
Despite all that, just what were Ireland up to in the first 10 mins? Wales score early and Ireland get three penalties in quick succession in the Welsh half. They have Ronan O'Gara to kick the goals. They chose to kick for touch. The got nothing for their trouble. Cup rugby is about building a score and keeping pressure on opponents; plus, as IBM keep telling us, only 10% of lines out result in tries. So what were they thinking?
Whatever was going through Irish minds Wales were having none of it, Sean O'Brien broke very few tackles, BOD made little impression with ball in hand and Ronan got out kicked (from hand) by the uber-cool Priestland. After Shane squeezed in at the corner to quash any opening Welsh nerves, then the strength of body and mind that this young Welsh side forged in the cryogenic chambers of Poland came to the fore.
Ireland came out firing in the 2nd half and earned their try through the diminutive and busy Keith Earls. Then Halfpenny absorbed the aerial attacks and Wales drove through the middle of Ireland where Alyn Wyn Jones made some real ground, allowing Mike Phillips to finish with an exquisite, and necessary, dive (Chris Ashton take note). All that was left was for Jonathan Davies to score the kind of try he often produces in regional matches, showing strength and acceleration that he has not often produced at international level with ball in hand. Ireland continued to bludgeon away and showed some slick handling but they lacked the Welsh incision and were repelled time and time again.
"We deserved it" said the ever-humble Mike Phillips, he was right. The question is, can they sustain the same defensive efforts for two more matches and continue to be ruthless in attack? We'll go some way to finding out when Wales play France next week for a place in the World Cup Final. Surely the rudderless French have used up their best game in dispatching England today?
With that in mind this prophet foretells a Welsh win. Cymru Am Byth!
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