The blood flowing from the head of Wales replacement Jake Ball in the dying moments of his side’s loss against Ireland showed the attritional nature of the opening fixture of the Autumn Nations Cup.
Ireland, despite winning relatively comfortably and in doing so condemning the Welsh to a sixth loss in a row, will be anxious ahead of their trip to Twickenham next week as both fly-halves Jonathan Sexton and debutant replacement Billy Burns hobbled off.
After the match, Sexton confirmed he had suffered a hamstring strain and will have a scan on Saturday to assess his hopes of playing against England.
Wales seemed to bristle with frustration from the early minutes of the game, perhaps due to their losing streak. As a result of this tension, tempers flared and two episodes of handbags broke out in the opening minutes. Both sides share the spectre of the coaches who led them to their recent glory years in Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland. Andy Farrell is arguably under less pressure, having taken Ireland to the final round of his maiden Six Nations at the helm with a chance of winning the Championship. However, the glare of criticism is far greater on opposite number Wayne Pivac, with his Welsh side having finished fifth in the Six Nations.
Pivac explained his disappointment but asked for patience in the changes he is making after a decade of Gatland’s influence. “We are looking to change what we have done for over 10 years and to change mind-sets,” he said.
“It is something that doesn’t happen overnight and we will continue with the changes as we believe in it. The players are working very hard. We are not giving in. This is not the World Cup we are working towards; it is going to take time.
“It was frustrating but I think from a head coach’s point of view in these situations is the vibe amongst the players. If you were to see our changing room, they were very disappointed but they put in a hell of a shift. The positive was the work we put in when we were without the ball and it was a hell of a defensive effort.”
From the outset Ireland edged ahead due to superiority at the set piece, something which Farrell was particularly proud of, using the word “dominant” to sum up the evening. “Dominant is a word every coach would like to keep on using [to describe their team] but you would like to think any Irish side at the Aviva Stadium is able to be dominant,” he said. “I suppose how do you get to be dominant? Your set piece has to be good and I thought it went well in the first half. Our defensive lineout was better. To be dominant you need a good defence and I thought it was good – we got off the line. You have to be pleased when any side comes to the Aviva without a try.”