Joe Schmidt was left to rue his side’s slow start and inability to react to the refereeing of Wayne Barnes after Ireland’s bid for a Six Nations Grand Slam was reduced to rubble by Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
In an emotionally-charged Millennium Stadium, Schmidt saw his side lose for the first time in 11 matches as Wales' victory and England's later defeat of Scotland blew the RBS 6 Nations wide open again heading into next weekend's final round of matches.
Ireland had only themselves to blame for that after early indiscipline allowed Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny to kick his side into a 12-0 lead inside the first quarter of an hour and when they finally got up and running fail to translate the majority of possession and territory into points.
Warren Gatland's side must take enormous credit for that after putting in a tremendous defensive effort that saw them make 289 tackles according to the official statistics, but Schmidt did not take solace in that.
“It allowed Wales to control the first quarter with territory and possession,” Schmidt said of Ireland's slow start. “And then we saw some very, very stringent refereeing of the tackle area. And we probably weren’t quick enough to respond to that.
“There wasn’t really that much tempo earlier in the game. The tempo came into the game in the second quarter.
“They won the first four balls in the air, so they did really well. And I don’t think you can take anything away from Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts in the way that they did that.”
Ireland now trail England on points difference by four with Wales also equal on six points, but trailing the Irish by a 21-point differential.
Warren Gatland's kick off the final day's play next Saturday when they visit Italy in Rome before Ireland go to the still winless Scotland at Murrayfield. England will know exactly what they have to do as they welcome France to Twickenham for the final game of the championship at 5pm.
“I suppose it’s a bit similar to last year where we just knew we needed the result in Paris, and that’s something we managed to do and win the championship on the back of it and England had to sit and watch,” Schmidt said referring to last season's victory over France in the last game of the day.
“You’ve got to beat those teams first.
“I don’t think the championship you can afford to go anywhere and start chasing points. Scotland got very close to beating Wales, and Wales have just beaten us.
“But for a couple of decisions it could have changed things there with Scotland against Wales.
“Scotland are going to be very difficult to beat.”
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