Six Nations 2014: Ireland keep it simple to leave Wales bereft
It is often said that rugby union is a complicated game. But Ireland's emphatic victory over Wales in Dublin was a hymn to simplicity. Sung with gusto.
A beautiful hymn, no. But there is a certain majesty about a task completed without fussiness or frills. Job done, move on to the next one. And no Ireland player was more majestic on Saturday than Munster flanker Peter O'Mahony.
With fly-half Jonny Sexton loading the cannon with a pin-point kicking display, it was left to O'Mahony and the rest of the Ireland pack to smash down the Welsh defences.
Wales had no answer to Ireland's ferocious work at the breakdown or their driving maul. Actually, they had one, which was to give away penalties.
Flanker Dan Lydiate gave away the first four of the game, Wales gave away 15 in all. With Ireland's line-out drive in full effect, such poor discipline was suicidal.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland was gracious in defeat but did express his surprise at Ireland's lack of expansion. "They dominated us up front, didn't move the ball through the backline and kicked the leather off it," he said.
Meanwhile, Ireland head coach and Gatland's fellow New Zealander Joe Schmidt admitted his side's tactics were something of an accident.
"The weather forecast was awful and we felt we could keep it tight and accurate in the maul," said Schmidt, whose side had hammered out a 16-0 lead before the rain swept in at the Aviva Stadium. "But we decided to stick with the tactics that we had." The words of an arch pragmatist.
It upset Gatland that some chose to bill the encounter as a grudge match between himself and Ireland totem Brian O'Driscoll. But after seeing his team get steamrollered, Gatland did suggest that Ireland seemed more up for it.
"There was a lot at stake emotionally for the Irish players," said Gatland. "That plays a huge part." Indeed, O'Driscoll, who was dropped by Gatland for the deciding Lions Test against Australia last summer, wasn't the only Irish player with a point to prove.
Number eight Jamie Heaslip, who put in a monumental shift against Wales, was also dropped for that final Test. Munster skipper O'Mahony was overlooked for the trip down under, despite being arguably Ireland's best player last season.
But all that emotion needs a focus and Ireland captain Paul O'Connell, back in the side having missed last week's match against Scotland, suggested his side's tactical masterclass was the result of a commonality of thinking at club level.
"Once we gained a lead the maul was a potent weapon for us," said O'Connell, who was afforded a rapturous send-off when he was replaced by Dan Tuohy after 54 minutes. "All the provinces maul very well and when you come into camp there is a good mixture and exchange of ideas."
In contrast, at times it was difficult to decipher what Gatland's game-plan was. With Sexton winning the kicking battle against opposite number Rhys Priestland, Wales tried instead to steam over the top of Ireland's tacklers.
Ireland actually gifted Wales an awful lot of possession - the hosts kicked from hand on 46 occasions - but the kick chase was orc-like in its intensity and Alex Cuthbert, George North and Co were squashed like giant bugs on a windscreen when they attempted to run it back.
Wales had no Plan B. Perpignan fly-half James Hook was left on the bench when perhaps he could have offered an alternative point of view.
Wales also looked sluggish, as they did against Italy on the opening weekend. Gatland trumpeted his side's fitness before the start of the Championship but it is becoming increasingly evident that the Lions tour has left his Welsh players overcooked.
Nine of the side who started the deciding Test against Australia, plus three other Lions tourists, started against Ireland. Those players have now been playing rugby almost without a break for 19 months, including the 2012 pre-season.
Wales' dreams of becoming the first team to win the Six Nations title outright three years in a row having been greatly diminished, perhaps the best thing Gatland could do between now and the visit of France in two weeks' time is to give his boys a few days off rather than drill them with new theories.
As for Ireland, O'Connell believes the tough stuff starts here. "When we saw the fixture list all of us would have been thinking, 'the England game is where it will get a whole lot harder'," said the Munster second row, whose side visit Twickenham in a fortnight.
"They are an incredibly physical side, they have brilliant line speed, put teams under pressure and force teams into mistakes. It's going to be a big step up."
If Ireland get the fundamentals so right again they have every chance of coming away from Twickenham with a victory. Job done, move on to the next one and whisper it quietly: "Grand Slams can be won with such sweet simplicity…"