Ruthless Ireland demolish toothless Wales
Ireland 26 Wales 3
Ireland fans were singing in the rain and are now one step away from a Triple Crown in Joe Schmidt’s first season after demolishing championship favourites Wales – and on this evidence, his clinical side should be aiming for even more honours.
Chris Henry scored the opening try of the afternoon eight minutes from a half-time break that saw Ireland, employing an almost error-free kicking and breakdown game, lead 13-0 at the interval.
They scored another lucky 13 for them after the break, too, with Paddy Jackson adding a second try late on in an utterly dominant display in all facets of the game in a well-drilled, consummate display.
“It’s a special feeling, huge credit to the crowd,” said man of the match Peter O’Mahony. “We haven’t done our jersey justice in the last couple of years and we want to make this place a fortress.
“It’s a good place to be, going for a Triple Crown. It’s going to be tough but we’ll give it our all.”
Wales, title winners in 2012 and 2013, never got out of first gear as Ireland dismantled the Welsh lineout and dominated both collision and breakdown, with Peter O’Mahony dominant here yet again.
Wales even failed in their attempt to take Brian O’Driscoll out of the game, Scott Williams damaging his shoulder after an early tackle off the ball.
It was the most accomplished Ireland performance in some years and rarely has every replacement been rewarded with a standing ovation; the amount of Irish errors could be counted on one hand.
They will now be fancied to win in Twickenham against an eminently beatable English side in a fortnights’ time – with a Triple Crown in the bag, their sights will then surely be only the third Grand Slam in their history.
Ireland forced the first opportunity when Dan Lydiate refused, or was unable, to extricate himself from a ruck and Jonathan Sexton nailed the eighth minute kick from the 22 for an early 3-0 lead.
Brian O’Driscoll took a heavy knock from a Scott Williams tackle that bordered on the illegal but the man at the centre of attention resumed the game after taking a momentary breather.
Indeed, it was Scott Williams who had to be forced off in an early Welsh change with severe damage to his right shoulder.
If it was a strategy top target O’Driscoll; this early attempt had spectacularly backfired.
Ireland had the early possession and territory and were asking all the questions; their control was rewarded when another Welsh infringement, this time from Richard Hibbard, that allowed Sexton to double the advantage in the 18th minute.
There was a lot of kicking as both sides tried to get the tactical upper hand, with Conor Murray and Rhys Priestland enjoying their own personal kicking duel.
However, it was Sexton’s clever dink into space near the right-hand touchline, forcing an Irish lineout, that created the first try for the home side in the 32nd minute, Chris Henry lumbering over from the five-metre maul.
Sexton, who had tossed in some average kicks in t he previous 15 minutes, made no mistake from the right-hand touchline as Ireland forged a 13-0 lead. He tried a speculative long-range effort with the last kick of the half but the 55-metre punt drifted wide.
Ireland continued their almost error-free pressure rugby in the second-half and Andrew Coombs was penalised for sacking Cian Healy without the ball; Sexton hammered home the punishment for a 16-0 lead in the 46th minute.
Wales finally got their running game up to speed after that but, as he did last week, Peter O’Mahony effected a brilliant turnover, not his first, to relieve the pressure as the first bars of the “Fields” rang out around Dublin 4.
Paul O’Connell was replaced after a superb 55 minutes following his chest infection but Wales scored their first points minutes later as Leigh Halfpenny registered the visitors’ first score from the first opportunity.
The heavens had opened by this stage and Ireland continued to rain down a plethora of accurate contestable kicks upon the beleaguered, pinned-back Welsh back three.
As their penalty concession rate soared into double figures, Sexton restored the 16 point advantage on the hour mark with another deadly accurate place-kick.
Dan Tuohy, O’Connell’s replacement, was almost immediately forced off with a serious arm injury as Ireland sought to repel a Welsh challenge which, thanks to Ireland’s immense pressure, never rose above second gear.
They did have one late chance but Rhodri Jones was penalised for a double movement when tying to blast his way beyond an impressive green wall of defence.
Ireland: R Kearney, A Trimble F McFadden (61), B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney, J Sexton (Jackson 75), C Murray; C Healy (J McGrath 68), R Best (S Cronin 73), M Ross (M Moore 55), D Toner, P O'Connell (D Tuohy 55 (T O’Donnell 65)), P O'Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip.
Wales : L Halfpenny, A Cuthbert, S Williams (L Williams, J Roberts, G North, R Priestland, M Phillips; G Jenkins (P James 71), R Hibbard (K Owens 61), A Jones (R Jones 61), A Coombs (J Ball 71), A Wyn Jones, D Lydiate (J Tipuric 71), S Warburton, T Faletau.
Referee: W Barnes (England)