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New tournament, familiar flaws: Wales fall to sixth consecutive defeat

Wales fell to a 32-9 defeat to Ireland in the Autumn Nations opener amid building pressure on head coach Wayne Pivac. After five consecutive defeats, the head coach would surely have hoped for better from his men in the key areas of the scrum and breakdown. The team’s expansive game plan was neutered by their indiscipline, giving away four penalties at the breakdown in just the opening half-an-hour, suffocating any momentum and enabling Ireland to put points on the board.

Ireland came into the game with two late changes as both Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale pulled up with injuries in the warm-up. After an early exchange of penalties one of the late inclusions in the starting XV, Quinn Roux, scored the opening try, crashing over from short range off the back of yet another dominant Irish scrum for a 10–3 lead.

The Irish dominance at the scrum continued for much of the half, with Wales’ Rhys Carré giving away two scrum penalties and an offside before being subbed off before the halftime whistle blew. Billy Burns, on for the injured Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, punished the second infringement at the set-piece with a penalty just before half time for a 16–6 lead after forty exciting minutes of running rugby.

The start of the second half began as though Wales had finally woken up. A penalty at the breakdown provided good field position but the referee ruled that Wales hinged at a subsequent scrum, enabling Ireland to clear their lines. Wales continued to struggle to make their dominance pay, with a solitary Leigh Halfpenny penalty being the reward for Ireland infringing four times at the breakdown in the first quarter of the second half – with three of them in kickable positions.

Among those penalties came a moment which summed up the way the night was headed. Moments after Halfpenny’s long-range effort came narrowly short, Wales declined an easier shot to goal in favour of kicking to the corner. Dan Biggar was perhaps a tad greedy in his search for field position, with Conway preventing the ball from going out of play and thereby neutralising the threat.

Ireland replacement scrum half Connor Murray settled Irish nerves with three quick penalties to stretch the lead to 18 points. James Lowe, making his debut for Ireland, scored with the clock in the red to compound Wales’s misery. In perhaps the brightest moment on a gloomy evening in Dublin, Callum Sheedy made his Wales debut, securing the future of a player eligible for each of Ireland, England and Wales.

Wales’s next game comes next weekend against Georgia. A victory – and by a significant margin – will be the only thing to quieten a growing chorus of discontent.

Referee Corner

For this feature, Mary Pringle, a third-year student at the university and rugby referee takes us through the thought process a referee goes through when analysing a scrum.

When looking at scrums, safety and stability are the main aspects that referees keep in mind. We have to ensure that all players, especially front rowers, are supporting their body weight and not preventing their opponents from pushing or stopping them from supporting their own body weight. Binds are important as we don’t want one side to have an advantage because they are preventing the other side with bad technique such as by binding on the arms or by pulling downward.

Once a scrum has engaged, we look for players trying to gain an unfair advantage by changing their angles, their shoulders hinging below their hips or other technical errors that may cause injuries or prevent the other side from competing fairly. One common misconception is that once a team has a dominant scrum they are entitled to a penalty. In fact, the only time you are given a penalty is when the other team infringes. This means it is entirely possible to have dominant scrum, and not be rewarded. We often see that the opponent of a dominant scrum looks to find illegal ways to combat this advance which may result in a sanction. For more information on scrums, you can download the World Rugby laws app.

Image: Papachinzo via Wikimedia Commons