sport

Howley frustrated by Wales display

Rob Howley bemoaned a nightmare start to Wales' RBS 6 Nations title defence after his side's comeback fell short in a 30-22 defeat to Ireland.

Last year's Grand Slam winners were left reeling by an accurate and clinical first-half display from the visitors in Cardiff.

Wales trailed by 30 points to three early in the second half as tries from Simon Zebo, Cian Healy and the magnificent Brian O'Driscoll put Ireland in command.

The hosts bravely rallied but they had left themselves far too much to do and tries from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell were not enough to prevent an eighth successive defeat.

The reverse also marked the first time Wales have lost five straight matches at home.

Interim head coach Howley said: "It is frustrating and disappointing. With the way we started we allowed Ireland a foothold.

"The key in any international game is territory and possession and we came second by a very long way.

"Ireland's kicking game, combined with our lack of accuracy at the contact area, allowed them field position, the pressure built and built and built and they took their opportunities.

"On the other hand, in the second half we played a lot of good rugby, had a good impact off the bench and scored three tries.

"But in that first 20 minutes we need to focus. We spoke all week about starting well and we didn't."

Howley is still waiting to taste victory against a Test playing nation while in charge of his country.

The first half would have made worrying viewing for the former scrum-half, as well as Warren Gatland, who was at the Millennium Stadium in his capacity as Lions head coach.

But Howley rejected suggestions his squad were not responding to his coaching ideas.

"We were disappointed to lose another try in the first two minutes of the second half, but to come back from 30 points to three down to where we were... I think it is a silly question to ask about players buying in," he said.

"It reminded me of the game against Scotland here a few years ago (where Wales scored 17 points in the final few minutes to snatch a remarkable win).

"We probably left four tries out there. We had two situations where we did not finish off two against ones and there were a couple of poor decisions in their 22.

"But the players showed a lot of character, which you want to see as a coach.

"It's a shame we couldn't score a fraction earlier in the second half.

"If we had I think that game could have had a different ending."

While Wales now face the daunting task of a trip to face France in Paris next weekend, Ireland will host England with valuable momentum behind them.

The imperious O'Driscoll was a central figure in their victory.

The 34-year-old has had his share of injury problems, and has even hinted this Six Nations could be his last.

But the class that has marked him out as the world's finest centre over the last decade and more was clearly on show in Cardiff, as he upstaged Wales centre and potential Lions' rival Jonathan Davies.

O'Driscoll teased and tormented the Welsh in attack, and worked tirelessly in defence as Ireland looked to stem the tide as Wales launched wave after wave of second-half attacks.

Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards was fulsome in his praise of the Leinster three-quarter.

He said: "I thought he was the difference between the two teams, I wish someone had left him in Ireland."

And Ireland coach Declan Kidney hopes O'Driscoll will grace this tournament for at least another year.

He said: "Brian will make up his own mind. I would not like to sway him one way over the other.

"The bottom line is you would love to have the guy around forever wouldn't you?

"But if you look at the performance he put in today, that is not easy on the body.

"Huge credit to him, given the amount of game time he has had, to come out and give such an international class performance like he did today.

"It is wrong to say it doesn't surprise you, as normally you should not be able to pull out a performance like that with the amount of game time he has under his belt.

"With Brian it is just a privilege to be working with him."

But Kidney cooled any talk of a potential Grand Slam, despite facing France and England on home soil this year.

He said: "I don't buy into that because it means we should not bother every other year as we have no chance.

"If you look at the second half here, we still have a lot of work to do.

"England and France are playing well and we still have to go to Murrayfield where we lost the last time we were up there."