RBS Six Nations: Rob Howley rued nightmare start to Wales' title defence
Last Updated: 02/02/13 7:40pm
Rob Howley: Left bemused by Wales' start to Six Nations defence
Interim head coach Rob Howley rued a nightmare start to Wales' RBS Six Nations title defence after his side's comeback effort fell short in a 30-22 defeat to Ireland in Cardiff.
With usual boss Warren Gatland watching on from the Millennium Stadium sidelines due to his British and Irish Lions head coach brief, last year's Grand Slam winners were left reeling by a rampant opening 40 minutes from the Irish.
Simon Zebo, Cian Healy and the mercurial Brian O'Driscoll put the visitors 23-3 ahead after a one-side first half, Leigh Halfpenny's penalty the only Welsh reply.
Brian O'Driscoll, with a simple finish, and Jonathan Sexton's 15th booted point soon after the restart put Ireland effectively out of sight but quick replies from Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny gave Wales a sniff of completing an unlikely comeback.
However, replacement front row Craig Mitchell's try was too little and way too late at an eerily quietened Millennium Stadium.
"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."
Howley's men slipped meekly in the end to an eighth successive defeat and the home reverse also marked the first time Wales have lost five straight matches in Cardiff in their history.
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 but 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 added.
"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."