That was strange: Ireland captain Rory Best bemused with result after draw with Wales
Jonathan Sexton’s boot comes to the rescue in contest featuring dogged defence, pinpoint kicking and dollops of disappointment
Ireland captain Rory Best admitted he had mixed feelings after drawing 16-16 with Wales at Lansdowne Road in their Six Nations opener on Saturday.
Joe Schmidt’s side raced into a 13-0 first-half lead, but failed to score between the 27th and 74th minutes – when Johnny Sexton kicked a 40-metre penalty to earn the hosts a share of the spoils.
An injury ravaged Ireland side stormed to the perfect start, with Conor Murray’s converted try and two penalties from Sexton giving them a double-digit lead inside the half hour, but Warren Gatland’s experienced outfit fought back and briefly took the lead through Rhys Priestland’s 72nd minute penalty.
It wasn’t enough to earn victory, nor to put a smile on Best’s face.
“I think it’s a strange result,” he said. “(It’s) a draw nobody is overly happy with, but at 16-13, you look at the Welsh defence and think we’re reasonably happy with the draw.
“It’s a lot better than a loss. There’s bits we’re reasonably happy with, but parts we can improve on.
“We started really well, but the flip side is the last 10 minutes of the first half, we let them into it when we had a firm grip of the game.”
Taulupe Faletau’s try before the break came at a crucial time for Wales, who were blown away by an impressive Irish opening, before they took control of the set piece and overpowered the reigning champions.
But like the Irish, Wales didn’t threaten the opposition try line much in the second half, leaving Gatland feeling “flat” at full time.
“I think on reflection, we got ourselves back into it, played well in the second half, dominating territory and possession, but I’m disappointed (with) the way we started,” he said.
“The good side is we got back into the game, and we possibly could have come away with a win, but I don’t want to take anything away from Ireland, they contributed well and maybe a draw was a fair reflection of the game.
“It’s taken a couple of trophies out of the cabinet now already – you can’t win the grand slam or the triple crown. It’s about staying in the championship now.”
Wales skipper Sam Warburton put the visitor’s opening period down to early season “rustiness”, and promised the principality would improve as the tournament progressed.
He disagreed with the claim Wales were perhaps complacent against an understrength Ireland side (missing Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney and Cian Healy among others), insisting there was no difference between this game and previous encounters.
“When you get to international level, as happened with us in the World Cup when you get 3-4 changes, it’s not too bad given the quality guys coming in, the strength in depth of the Ireland squad,” he said.
“They’re all capable of doing a job, it’d never make us complacent.”
Joe Schmidt said O’Brien and Kearney are likely to be fit for next Saturday’s game in Paris, but there’s a doubt over Keith Earls, who may have suffered a concussion.
“We have half a day less to recover now to compete with France and it is a monumental task,” Schmidt added of their next fixture.
“It’s such a competitive competition, and when you’ve a six day turnaround it’s always tough.”
France’s new-look side rallied from 18-10 down to pip Italy 23-21 in their opening match and somewhat repair shattered confidence following a dismal Rugby World Cup.