Two from two, but still a long way to go. From the offset, Joe Schmidt and Ireland would have earmarked the Wales match as their true starting point of the tournament. Beat what Warren Gatland put out on the day, and only then begin to think about a potential championship. Against Scotland, Ireland were professional albeit unspectacular. Against Wales, they were brutally effective, intense and looked every bit the team that for 40 minutes put the All Blacks to the sword last November. But the beauty of the Six Nations means that such a performance will count for nothing should Ireland not back this up in Twickenham a fortnight from now. For Schmidt and co, the quest for a Grand Slam starts at headquarters two weeks from now.
Gatland has an impressive CV, by far the most impressive of his peers in the Six Nations championship. The key to such success: the simple but effective game of powerful, line-breaking Warrenball. At Lansdowne road on Saturday afternoon, Gatland’s sole tactic and game plan was brutally beaten and strangled to a point of no recovery. Left with little or no backup plan, tempers began to flare within the Welsh camp as Ireland winded down the clock. Gatland admitted afterwards that he would have to give his tactics a long hard look at over the next fortnight. Whether or not it will produce a response against the French is another thing.
Taken off to a standing ovation just before the hour mark, it was obvious that Paul O’Connell was still feeling the side effects of a chest infection that kept him out of the Scotland win last Sunday. Back in training on Thursday and declaring himself fit to start, O’Connell’s return to the starting XV proved a great boost to the pack. From the off his presence and leadership was obvious as Ireland brilliantly took the game to their Welsh counterparts at the set piece, with the former Lions captain making sure the Welsh had to fight for every single lineout ball. O’Connell once again finds himself as the lynchpin within the Ireland set up, refusing to let age get the better of him. Admitting afterwards that he was still struggling with illness and unable to play the full 80 minutes, the thought of a fully fit O’Connell will only excite Irish fans.
One of the bigger monkeys on the back of this Irish team is that of their consistency, perhaps summed up by their previous autumn performances against Australia and New Zealand. Here, Ireland’s inconsistency was laid bare, and how Schmidt knew it. Now with two solid wins under his belt – two victories that the coach himself admitted were going some way to easing the pain of the All Black defeat – the opportunity to build upon two excellent performances without too much scarring in terms of injury is there to be taken.
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