DUBLIN, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Wales will have to improve if they are to take advantage of an exhilarating win over Ireland on Sunday and challenge for the Six Nations championship, captain Sam Warburton said after a game slightly marred by weak kicking and dangerous tackling.
Wales, who repeated their quarter-final victory over Ireland from last year’s World Cup with a nailbiting 23-21 win, face Scotland in Cardiff next weekend before travelling to Twickenham for a possible triple crown showdown with England.
“We have to improve a bit by next week. We don’t think we were anywhere near the best we could have played,” Warburton, who was taken off at halftime with a dead leg, told reporters.
“The next two games we have are a real test for us.”
Leigh Halfpenny’s last-minute penalty gave Wales victory but they failed to close out the game after dominating much of the first half and lock Bradley Davies narrowly avoided a red card after a spear tackle.
Wales missed two of three conversion attempts and two of four penalties.
“We got out of jail and won our first game away from home,” said coach Warren Gatland, who acknowledged Davies could have been sent off.
“We have to see if we can get that confidence and self belief and be accurate and do the simple things well...I think we can do really well in this championship,” he added.
“When we get it right we are going to be good.”
Ireland, who had hoped to avenge their dismantling by Wales in New Zealand in October, were left to pick up the pieces after the national team again failed to match the dominance their provincial teams have shown in Europe.
“We conceded a lot of momentum in the first half and gave them a lot of belief. We probably didn’t defend with our heads up,” said captain Paul O‘Connell, whose Munster team is one of three Irish sides in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
“You can’t give a team that kind of time with ball in hand, it puts you under a lot of pressure.”
After a disappointing World Cup, Ireland are running out of opportunities for silverware before the expected retirement of their ‘Golden Generation’ of players - fly half Ronan O‘Gara, second row O‘Connell and centre Brian O‘Driscoll -- in the coming years.
Coach Declan Kidney, who picked Jonathan Sexton ahead of O‘Gara, vowed to bounce back against France in Paris next Saturday and challenge for the championship.
”I think we’re a lot better than that,“ Kidney said. ”We have buckets to work on and six days to do it.
“There is a championship still to be won and that’s what we’ll work towards,” he said. (Editing by Mark Meadows)