Wales look in vain for the spirit of 2010
"IT reminded of when we played Scotland out here in 2010," said Rob Howley, as Wales's interim coach reflected on the latest 'what might have been' of his winless tenure.
Howley was referring to the remarkable late show at Cardiff three years ago, when Scotland saw two players sin-binned, crumbled and allowed Wales to score 17 unanswered points to produce one of the great comebacks of the modern era.
The difference this time, of course, is that Ireland are a side who rarely crumble and that day Wales also boasted a certain Shane Williams in their ranks.
What Wales would have given for Shane in their attacking arsenal on Saturday, a razor-sharp rapier amid the bludgeon.
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They say you only appreciate something when it's no longer there and against Ireland, more than any other time since Williams waved an emotional farewell to the international arena, you longed for the presence of the twinkle-toed one from the Amman.
On their day, Wales's backline of Goliaths are capable of demolishing opposition defences, as they did in Dublin last year.
But, on Saturday, when the door refused to be broken down, they were lacking a craftsman to unpick the lock.
Williams was a once-in- a-generation player, a wing who possessed the ability to turn a match on its head through flair, guile and boots that were laced with stardust.
He was the type of individual Ireland are fortunate to still have wearing the No. 13 jersey.
If this was Brian O'Driscoll's final appearance for his country in Cardiff, then what a way to bow out.
O'Driscoll set up one try and dived over for another. He tackled with typical relish and even enjoyed a brief cameo at scrum-half when Connor Murray was sitting out ten minutes in the sin bin.
It was a majestic performance from Ireland's King of Centres and one that should, injury permitting, have already booked his flight to Australia with Warren Gatland's Lions this summer.
"I thought he was the difference between the two teams," said Wales's defence coach Shaun Edwards in the wake of the 30-22 defeat. "I wish somebody would have left him in Ireland."
With Gatland watching from the stands, it wasn't only O'Driscoll who moved himself to the top of the queue for Lions selection in week one of what is promising to be one of the most attractive Championships in recent memory.
Leinster flanker Sean O'Brien produced the kind of all-action display that won him the European player of the year in 2011, Jonathan Sexton look unruffled at ten and his duel with England Owen's Farrell next week should be fascinating, while Rory Best won the Home Nations hooking honours.
As for Wales, Justin Tipuric's supersub display will have kept his name in a strong pool of back-row contenders, Toby Faletau caught the eye with his ball-carrying, while the ultra-consistent Leigh Halfpenny edged a relatively quiet Rob Kearney in the full-back battle.
But the rest of Wales's much-vaunted backline have work to do. Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies has been one of the most reliable performers at regional and Test level over the last couple of years, but he is still trying to answer questions over his distribution skills.
Jamie Roberts was the player of the series in South Africa in 2009 alongside O'Driscoll, but he needs a couple of standout performances if he is to reunite with the Ireland talisman four years on.
On the wings, George North has struggled to impose himself in recent Tests, although it will take an almighty loss of form for him not to travel, while Alex Cuthbert's inexperience was exposed on Saturday — in attack, when he ran headlong into Kearney with Roberts on his outside; and in defence, with that man O'Driscoll enticing him infield before offloading to Simon Zebo for Ireland's first try.
As for Mike Phillips, another of Wales's 2009 Test Lions, the Bayonne No. 9 is another who needs a big game in Paris on Saturday with Ben Youngs and Danny Care enjoying their day at Twickenham against the Scots.
Howley, though, will let Gatland, the media and the thousands of pub selectors worry about the Lions.
His pressing concern will be halting an eight-match losing streak when Wales cross the channel to take on Les Bleus.
Changes are likely with Aaron Shingler's rib injury paving the way for Tipuric to start, while Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees are set to come under pressure from Paul James, Ken Owens and Richard Hibbard, if fit.
Wales showed in the second half they are not far away from a win that will give the game here a much-needed pick-me-up.
The early kick-off time didn't help, neither did that woeful start, but the success-starved Millennium Stadium was subdued on Saturday with Fields of Athenry ringing around the stands long before Cwm Rhondda and Hymns and Arias broke out.
Eight Tests without a win, a record five matches without a victory at home, Welsh rugby has lost its mojo.
Oh for a bit of joie de vivre in the Parisian suburbs on Saturday.