Dejected head coach Joe Schmidt insisted “it’s not back to the drawing board” for Ireland, who suffered their first defeat in 11 matches.
Wales destroyed Ireland’s Grand Slam dream at an emotionally charged Millennium Stadium as they set up a thrilling finale to this season’s RBS 6 Nations Championship with a 23-16 success.
Wales, Ireland and England are all be in the title mix in next weekend’s final round of Six Nations action.
Replacement centre Scott Williams’ second-half try proved the difference in comfortably the best game of this season’s championship, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked five penalties and fly-half Dan Biggar dropped a goal.
Ireland responded with a 69th-minute penalty try, plus 11 points from fly-half Johnny Sexton’s boot, but they suffered a first defeat in 11 Tests and only their third since coach Joe Schmidt took charge almost two years ago.
Wales were good value for their victory, combining attacking creativity with some remarkable stonewall defending, and Ireland were left a frustrated outfit on the occasion of their skipper Paul O’Connell’s 100th cap.
Unlike against England two weeks ago, they could not dominate an opponent that has now strung together three successive Six Nations wins and will head to Rome for an appointment with Italy next Saturday chasing a possible third title in four years, with silverware now likely to be decided on points difference.
It was one of their finest performances since coach Warren Gatland took charge in 2008, with desire and a sheer will to win shining through, especially when skipper Sam Warburton and centre Jonathan Davies were sin-binned in each half.
The Irish had one of those off-colour days and even having gone through 30 phasese on the Welsh line, could not penetrate an impressive defensive display.
New Zealand schoolteacher Schmidt admitted Wales beat Ireland at their own game, dominating the tactical kicking battle that has been such a strength for Schmidt’s side.
“Yeah; it’s funny there wasn’t really that much tempo earlier in the game,” said Schmidt when asked if Wales adopted Ireland-style tactics in victory.
“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.
“The strategy was the same as it has been for the last few weeks: and it’s not back to the drawing board for us.
“I think if you start to throw the baby out with the bathwater, it’s pretty hard to start all over again.”
Former Leinster boss Schmidt did, however, admit “concern” with Ireland’s failure to convert 64 per cent possession and 66 per cent territory into any tries.
“I think there is concern: we went out with a plan in the second half expecting to accumulate points if we played and won a number of penalties,” said Schmidt.
“But the penalties didn’t come in the second half, so we didn’t achieve anything with that strategy, apart from some really good play.”