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Ireland maintain winning start against dogged Wales

Ireland’s back-to-back Grand Slam bandwagon will roll on to Twickenham in two weeks’ time after a 31-7 win against Wales at the Aviva Stadium, but Andy Farrell’s side were given a stern reminder that their title will not be a procession.

Their 11th consecutive Six Nations win was never in any doubt against a dogged – but very limited – Welsh side, however, an uncharacteristically sloppy attacking display saw them have to wait until the final play of the game to secure a bonus-point try.

First-half tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe had given the home side a 17-0 lead with just over 30 minutes played, as the predictions that Ireland would rack up a big score against Warren Gatland’s side looked to be coming true.

Ireland had been in complete control in that first half, with 70% possession and 62% territory in the first 40 minutes while Wales gave up nine penalties in that period, matching their total from the first two games combined.

But rather than ruthlessly kick on in the second half, Ireland regressed in the third quarter. Their discipline unravelled as they gave up an early penalty try, while Tadhg Beirne took a trip to the sin-bin.

As sloppy as Ireland were, Wales never had the weapons to really punish them, and the hosts finally grabbed the steering wheel in the last 20 minutes. Ciarán Frawley, who was excellent in his first start at full-back, dived over to extend the lead, before Beirne’s score with the final play of the game ensured they would pick up maximum points.

Ireland controlled possession in the opening minutes, with the pick of the early chances falling to Robbie Henshaw who was found on the touchline by Gibson-Park with a skip pass, but the centre’s chip down the touchline just ran too far.

The only Welsh trips into Irish territory ended in a penalty to the home side at the breakdown, as first Bundee Aki and then Andrew Porter came up with poaches. Either side of those, Crowley kicked Ireland into a 3-0 lead with a penalty from just inside 40 metres.

The opening quarter was owned by Ireland, with 73% territory illustrating that. However, they weren’t making it count on the scoreboard.

Wales conceded just nine penalties in their first two games, but had been pinged six times in just under 20 minutes by referee Andrea Piardi. Finally, on the quarter hour, Ireland made them pay.

Sheehan had seen an earlier surging maul get caught up in traffic and turned over by the Welsh, but when they went back to the corner next time the result was different, as Sheehan found Tadhg Beirne at the front of the lineout, before the pack drove through, and Sheehan touched down for his fourth try of the championship.

Crowley’s conversion gave Ireland a 10-0 lead, and by now they were well warmed up. The Welsh indiscipline continued, and when they were penalised for the eighth time, Ireland went back to the corner. The maul didn’t motor, but instead they went into their multi-phase game.

They moved from one touchline to the other, Gibson-Park’s looping pass finding Nash, and after 11 phases in the 22, they brought play back down the near side, with Nash showing quick hands to get the ball out to Lowe, who touched down unopposed.

Crowley converted to make it 17-0, but even that scoreline didn’t accurately convey the gap between the sides. It took the visitors 34 minutes to get their first entry to the Irish 22, and it was short-lived as they gave up another penalty – their ninth of the day – to allow Ireland clear and see out a comfortable first half.

It was Ireland’s turn to lose their discipline at the start of the second half. Two quick penalties in midfield allowed Wales attack the corner, and from the resulting maul Beirne was guilty of changing his bind, as Piardi awarded the visitors a penalty try to cut the gap to 17-7, and sent the Ireland second row to the sin-bin for 10 minutes.

Normal service was resumed soon after, as Ireland dominated both possession and territory, but lacked the ruthlessness to make Wales pay. In an energy-sapping six-minute period of ball-in-play, the sides traded phases, with Frawley the only Irish player to seriously probe the Welsh defence with a pair of clever cross-field kicks.

That period ended with a penalty against Lowe for a high tackle, and on 53 minutes they infringed again, this time for offside, allowing Wales kick down into the corner just as Beirne’s sin-bin expired. The Munster man made up for his mistake by turning the Welsh maul over.

It had been a laboured and error-strewn third quarter, and when Farrell turned to his replacements, they provided a spark.

Rónan Kelleher came up with a jackal penalty in his own 22 to relieve pressure, before the hooker broke the Welsh defensive line in midfield to put Ireland on the attack.

The hosts thought they had got in for a third try on 59 minutes when Bundee Aki powered under the posts, but a Henshaw knock-on in the build-up saw it chalked off, keeping the scores 17-7.

The third try wasn’t long arriving though.

On 65 minutes, Wales allowed Ireland get back into the corner when they were penalised for hands on the ground, and while they did well to halt the Irish maul, strong carries from Aki and Jack Conan fixed the defence inside, before Gibson-Park darted a pass to Frawley who dived over for a deserved try. The conversion from Crowley made it 24-7, leaving Ireland 13 minutes to chase a bonus-point score.

It was almost Wales who struck the final blow as they came down the pitch, looking to end on a positive.

James Ryan picked up Ireland’s second yellow card of the day five minutes from time, but a big defensive stand held Wales at bay, before the home side had the final say, Beirne going over the line with the clock in the red, as Crowley finished off a perfect kicking display to seal a 24-point victory.


Ireland: Ciarán Frawley; Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Oli Jager, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Stuart McCloskey

Wales: Cameron Winnett; Josh Adams, George North, Nick Tompkins, Rio Dyer; Sam Costelow, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Elliot Dee, Keiron Assiratti; Dafydd Jenkins, Adam Beard; Alex Mann, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Corey Domachowski, Dillon Lewis, Will Rowlands, Mackenzie Martin, Kieran Hardy, Ioan Llyod, Mason Grady.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)




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