Never has a Tom Jones song sounded more like a funeral march. As “Delilah” echoed around the Cake Tin, Ireland’s golden generation said goodbye. Ireland fans at home yawned and stretched as they switched on TV sets in bedrooms, sitting rooms and bars all over the country in the early hours of the morning, but it was the Ireland team who could have most done with the coffee.
A Shane Williams try in the first few minutes set the tone for this defeat. In the preceding phases, a rejuvenated Jamie Roberts steamrolled Donnchadh O’Callaghan. Alarm bells rang. Ireland had been behind for a total of five minutes in the previous 4 World Cup games, but in this game they were never ahead, and rarely on par.
It wasn’t just parity on the scoreboard that Ireland struggled to achieve, it was in the pack, it was at 10. Ronan O’Gara’s radar was off. Priestland looked like the fly-half with over a century of caps, O’Gara looked like the rookie with a handful. This was not entirely the fault of the Cork man however, it was the result of outstanding tactics from Welsh coach Gatland. O’Gara never got a split second to kick his usual pinpoint ball into touch.
Gatland likes beating Ireland. In fact, he loves nothing more. He had egg on his face after his open mouth caught flies two years ago when Ireland secured the Grand Slam in Cardiff, but Saturday was the towel with which he wiped the yolk off.
Ferris and O’Brien never got on the front foot, and this was crucial to how the game progressed. Red shirts were in the faces of any Irish player unfortunate enough to be in possession of the ball. Unfortunate, because they had no chance of offloading, yet misfortune wasn’t the key. It was the utter flatness of play that Ireland perpetuated that allowed Wales to be up so quick in the tackle. All passes were received at a standstill.
Questionable kicking, not just from O’Gara but from all the backs, allowed Wales to counter at will. The balls were punted straight down the throats of Halfpenny and Williams. In contrast, Earls, Bowe and Kearney were always running backwards because of the near immaculate kicks to the corner from Priestland. Stephen Jones was left in the grandstand for the quarter final, Priestland’s performance on Saturday will ensure the veteran will have his feet up for the semi too.
This has been a World Cup of several highs and one low. Keith Earls’ finishing has been superb all tournament, and he can be proud of the manner in which he finished in the corner to give Ireland brief hope in the second half. The back row was immense, and O’Brien though leaving the competition early will still surely be up there when it comes to picking the tournament’s best player. There is a bright future in Irish rugby, but it just seems a little dimmer right now after seeing the World Cup swansong of some of the greatest rugby players this country and indeed the world have ever seen.
Why? Why? Why?