Six Nations 2015: Wales v Ireland - what we learned

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Six Nations 2015: Wales 23-16 Ireland Highlights

Any sporting contest is an allegory of life's struggles, at least if you look hard enough. But Wales' 23-16 victory over Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday had such emotional depth and complexity, the lessons were staring you in the face.

Fight and you will be rewarded

The British have a long-standing romantic attachment to rear-guard actions, both military and sporting. Rorke's Drift, Dunkirk - Ian Botham sticking it to the Aussies at Headingley in 1981 - they all served to convince the British that however hopeless a situation might seem, if you roll your sleeves up and jut out your chin you will live to fight another day. And maybe be rewarded with victory.

And so it was that the mightiest roar at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday came after 32 phases of Irish attack, when a shrill blast of Wayne Barnes' whistle signalled the hosts had won a penalty and the siege was up. For now.

It will go down as one of the most stirring passages of play ever witnessed in Cardiff. A few minutes later, the Welsh defenders were back in their trenches. A few minutes later, Scott Williams was romping over for a try at the other end.

Astonishingly, Wales broke the record for tackles made in a Six Nations match, set by Italy against Ireland last season, by 42.

They made an astonishing 250 (a revised figure, down from the 289 recorded during the 'in-match' analysis by the official stats supplier) in all, with lock Luke Charteris weighing in with 31 (this is also a revised figure following the pre-match review, the 6ft 10in lock was originally credited with 37).

Fighting comes at a cost

Much has been made of the rigours of modern rugby in recent weeks, with concussion one of the sport's most contentious topics and the question often raised: What, if anything, should be done to make the game less risky?

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Joe Schmidt paid tribute to the Welsh defence after the game

Alas, you cannot shrink players or make them run slower, so rear-guard actions, such as that mounted by Wales, will cost you more than your average victory.

Tight-head prop Samson Lee was taken off on a stretcher with a suspected broken ankle, loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins suffered a hamstring injury, hooker Richard Hibbard sustained a blow to the head and centre Jamie Roberts an arm injury. All four could miss next week's trip to Rome. Some might be sorely missed.

Variety is the spice of life

It was widely expected the match between Wales and Ireland would be a full-frontal assault on the senses, the rugby equivalent of death metal. But if the first 20 minutes were painful for Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, they were lucky for the neutral.

Ireland's sluggish start and Wales' early lead meant the visitors were forced to open up and play some rugby, which in turn lent the remainder of the match a breathless, desperate air. It was heady stuff to watch.

There were line-breaks, offloads, defenders beaten, missed tackles - yes, really - and many metres gained. Ireland captain Paul O'Connell, winning his 100th cap, found himself galloping towards the Welsh try-line on two occasions and pulled off one delightful flipped pass to winger Simon Zebo. Perhaps every international should start with the scoreline at 12-0?

Three-horse race?
TeamPointsPoints differenceFinal-day match
Check out who needs what on the final Six Nations weekend
England6+37France (h)
Ireland6+33Scotland (a)
Wales6+12Italy (a)
France4+22England (a)

Milestones are not always happy occasions

While O'Connell was monumental and a contender for the man-of-the-match award - deservedly won by Wales captain Sam Warburton - Ireland losing in Cardiff for only the third time in 33 years was not part of his pre-match script.

In addition, Ireland lost four line-outs on their own throw and wasted a couple of gilt-edged try-scoring opportunities - once when they had a four-on-one overlap when only a couple of metres from the Welsh try-line.

O'Connell will have Barnes's whistle ringing in his ears for a week. Asked if he had any idea why the referee awarded Wales a scrum at the death, when his side were again assailing the Welsh defence, O'Connell simply answered: "No. None."

Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton, winning his 50th cap and so solid against France and England, was strangely off-key. One moment, when he failed to take a pass because he had his back turned, rather summed up his day.

Effort = Victory = Sweetness

Whether you are a writer slumped for hours over a keyboard, a toolmaker stationed for hours at a lathe or a flanker busting his gut for his country, if the result is a triumph, all that perspiration dripping from the brow tastes sweet.

"Those defensive sets in the second half were maybe the most exhausted I've ever been," an elated Warburton said at the post-match news conference.

"We were so desperate to win, so it was so satisfying to get the result at the end - as satisfying as the wins against South Africa last autumn and England in 2013 and the World Cup quarter-final against Ireland in 2011.

Jamie Heaslip of Ireland
Ireland's Grand Slam dream ended in the face of incredible Welsh tackling

"I was on the floor, I heard the whistle being blown, saw Wayne Barnes's arm raised on our side and I just punched the ground. It was one of the best feelings I've had in a Wales shirt." About as sweet as it gets for Wales fans, too.

Defeat is depressing

Having seen his side lose for the first time in 11 Test matches, Ireland head coach Schmidt wore the haunted expression of a man who had just been shaken awake, having experienced the most incomprehensible of nightmares.

It is a well-worn cliche in sport that as long as you do not leave anything of yourself on the field of play, you can have no regrets. Not according to Schmidt and O'Connell - having seen their Grand Slam hopes go up in flames and their title aspirations diminish, their anguish was plain to see.

Responding to Wales head coach Warren Gatland's admission that he struggles to get out of bed the morning after a defeat, Schmidt said: "I struggle to go to bed, to be honest. I look at the game, think about the 'what ifs' and 'maybes'.

"Because there were a fair few of them - the last line-out drive, the last scrum, the pressure we had and how close we got to getting over their line…"

Defeat can be even more devastating when you give everything.

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