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Late flourish will stand to Ireland

The lasting impression of a game can swing dramatically, even with the clock in the red.

When James Ryan was yellow-carded after persistent Irish infringements in their own 22 on 75 minutes yesterday, and Wales were laying siege on the Irish tryline in search of a consolation score, it felt like Andy Farrell’s side would have to be content with their lot, leaving a bonus-point behind them.

A win is a win, but having been 17-0 up at half-time and in utter control, it seemed inconceivable for Ireland not to come away with a bonus-point win. Every minute of the 80 counts though, and when Tadhg Beirne charged through a gap in the defence with the final action of the game, it brought up that bonus-point score, and with it a healthier 31-7 scoreboard.

Tries like that, in the grand scheme of things, can be worth a lot more than the points on the day.

Beirne’s score brought to mind the second row’s try in the final minute of Ireland’s 82-8 win against Romania at the Rugby World Cup. In Bordeaux that day, Andy Farrell couldn’t contain his happiness at how his team milked every possible point out of the game, with Beirne emptying his tank in the 80th minute, in what had been scorching weather conditions.

Yesterday at the Aviva, the fourth and final try ensured a patchy performance ended on a positive note.

“It’s brilliant,” centre Robbie Henshaw said. “The game itself was quite scrappy, we got momentum and then it stalled a bit and then they’d get back up the pitch.”

And while Ireland were more dominant and played their best rugby in the opening half, Henshaw says they will get greater belief from how they closed things out.

Henshaw’s 10 tackles was the highest of the Irish backs

“I probably think the finish was hugely positive, we knew the message coming on was to go for the bonus point. In this competition every point matters, it was hugely pleasing that we finished the way we did.”

The 17-0 half time lead probably wasn’t reflective of how dominant Ireland were in that period, with Farrell describing some of their attack as “passive”

And Henshaw says the backline will take a large portion of the blame for it.

“We look back at that first half and the forwards gave us a really good platform in the scrum but as backs we probably need to do better with front-foot football like that. We’ll definitely look back and there will loads to work on.

“The fact that we finished strong was really positive for us and sets us up nicely for the next few weeks. But as I said, we expected Wales to put it up to us and our defence was very good. We found it hard at times to break it down. Hugely positive at the end to get over the line,” he added.

The win was Ireland’s 11th in a row in the Guinness Six Nations, equaling the record set by England in 2017.

Ireland could take that record for themselves, and move within one game of an unprecedented second Grand Slam in a row, if they defeat Steve Borthwick’s side at Twickenham in their next outing on 9 March.

And while Henshaw admits it’s impossible to stop the mind wandering, he says their full focus is on their trip to England in a fortnight.

“You know it [a Grand Slam] is out there, but not to be too cliched but we literally take it game to game and training session to training session, our next focus is England and putting in a huge performance there.

“That’s in the background but we know these games are probably the toughest for us now but we need to be looking at England and probably no further.

“Twickenham is always a tricky place to go, it’s always that cauldron environment. You know the last time we played there, we had a good result. It’s going to be a tough game, we’ll have to get better from today.”

Having been disrupted by injury in 2023, Henshaw has started all three games for Ireland in this championship, forming an impressive partnership with Bundee Aki in particular.

The 30-year-old may have to fend off competition from Garry Ringrose to keep the 13 jersey for Twickenham in March, with Ringrose expected to be available after a shoulder issue.

Henshaw says Ireland’s depth in the centre is as strong as ever.

“Everyone who’s been playing this season has been on fire for their club. I suppose we’re blessed that we have such talent in the country that Stuart McCloskey last week stepped in and did an unbelievable job and Bundee’s been bringing his World Cup form through to this season, he’s been brilliant as well.

“We’re in a great place with the talent we have and it’s great to see the performances being put on the pitch.”

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