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Ireland return to form against Wales as four-try blitz makes it two from two in the Six Nations

Ireland 24 Wales 14

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8 February 2020; Ireland players, including Tadhg Furlong and Conor Murray, celebrate their side's third try during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

8 February 2020; Ireland players, including Tadhg Furlong and Conor Murray, celebrate their side's third try during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

8 February 2020; Ireland players, including Tadhg Furlong and Conor Murray, celebrate their side's third try during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Andy Farrell has some breathing space, his team has momentum and finally look like themselves again.

They have reached their Six Nations base camp. Winning their home games was a minimum requirement for the new coach and his players, who repaid his faith with their best performance since 2018.

The manner of the win and the strength of the performance will calm a lot of the post-World Cup noise around the side as they turn their attention to their first away fixture against England in two weeks' time.

This game was the key to unlocking Ireland’s Six Nations. The result was all-important, but the performance was a nice bonus.

The players who struggled for so much of the last year produced their best display in some time.

CJ Stander was excellent, Peter O’Mahony far more influential than he has been, Robbie Henshaw was aggressive without the ball and inventive with it and Conor Murray looked more assured than he has done for some time.

Throw in Jordan Larmour’s capacity to break a game open and Andrew Conway's capacity to thrill and it’s a potent mix.

In particular, the win was built on Ireland's powerful tight-five, who dominated their opposition pack and ground them down.

It wasn’t perfect and there are areas to improve, but two wins from two is a healthy place to start from.

From the opening minute Ireland brought real intent to their play and, while their execution let them down at times, they seemed determined to take the game to Wales.

Larmour was central to everything they did well, countering 40 seconds in to create space out left. Jacob Stockdale’s chip in behind caused Dan Biggar to hesitate and Henshaw gladly bundled him over.

The 5m scrum was a golden opportunity for the home side to get ahead, but referee Romain Poite penalised Tadhg Furlong at the scrum and the chance was gone.

Where Ireland were inventive, their visitors were loose and Hadleigh Parkes; kick out on the full offered another chance to attack, but it came to nothing as Ken Owens snuffed it out with a breakdown penalty.

CJ Stander picked up where he left off last week by winning a breakdown penalty on Wales' first visit to Ireland's '22, but another Irish attack came and went at the other end as Taulupe Faletau managed to legally flop on the ball after the attacking maul came down short of the line.

Biggar cleared, but from the lineout Ireland finally got the opening score their play deserved.

Rather than maul, Rob Herring peeled around the back of the lineout and a couple of short carries later, Larmour took the ball from Murray, stepped inside Nick Tompkins and powered through Tomos Williams, Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny to score.

Johnny Sexton missed the conversion and another chance came and went as Jake Ball stripped James Ryan in the air after another Stander-earned penalty.

Despite their superiority, the home side found themselves behind as Wales took advantage of a rare trip into Irish territory.

Biggar played a neat, although marginally forward, one-two with Alun-Wyn Jones and when Peter O’Mahony got back to him the out-half found Williams on his shoulder to score.

Biggar converted, but the lead didn’t last long.

A clever chip from the impressive Andrew Conway forced Wales to play it from their own line and their try-scorer knocked on after Jones secured the lineout.

Ireland earned a penalty with their scrum and, with advantage, sent Bundee Aki and Ryan into contact before Furlong powered over with help from Herring and O’Mahony.

Sexton made no mistake and his side took a five-point lead in at the break.

After a gathering near the tunnel before the break led by O’Mahony and Alun Wyn Jones, the two teams came out fired up after the break, but Wales started loosely and handed Ireland a chance to attack when the struggling Tompkins knocked on but Larmour kicked out on the full.

Ireland kept the pressure on, an O’Mahony lineout steal handed them a chance to attack but he knocked on close to the line.

Poite was playing advantage and Sexton kicked to the corner and Ireland’s maul completely dominated for Josh van der Flier to score.

Wales fought back, forcing Ireland to defend their own line and once again the home side got away with one as Hadleigh Parkes spilled the ball when touching down after powering on to Gareth Davies' pass.

It wasn’t as egregious as Stuart Hogg’s effort last weekend, but it was an equally big moment.

Still, Wales kept coming. Stander risked the wrath of Poite with successive breakdown penalties but after repeated resets the referee penalised Dillon Lewis for collapsing the scrum and Sexton could clear.

Instead, it was Ireland who went on the hunt for their fourth try and quick hands from Keith Earls released Stockdale out wide. He chipped and Tompkins was forced into touch by Murray to hand the home side another chance to strike but it came to nothing when Herring knocked on.

More good work from Conway put Ireland in the frame once again and, while a Welsh knock-on stymied momentum, Ireland attacked off the scrum and Murray spilled in contact.

Wales looked a beaten team though, George North knocked on trying to run it out of his '22 and Ireland were given another shot at the bonus point.

And they took it, working their way through a couple of close-in carries before Ross Byrne found Larmour and he shoveled it out to the waiting Conway, who capped a superb performance by holding off Johnny McNicholl to score.

Man of the Match Stander gave away one breakdown penalty too many and saw yellow, but by then the game was done and Justin Tipuric's injury-time score did little to put a sheen on things for the visitors.

The tests get tougher from here on in, but there's finally something of a feel-good factor behind Ireland.

IRELAND – J Larmour; A Conway, R Henshaw (K Earls 45), B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 71), C Murray (J Cooney 73); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 51), R Herring (R Kelleher 67), T Furlong (A Porter 67); I Henderson (D Toner 67), J Ryan; P O’Mahony (M Deegan 71), J van der Flier, CJ Stander.

WALES – L Halfpenny; G North, N Tompkins, H Parkes, J Adams (J McNicholl 25); D Biggar (J Evans 45), T Williams (G Davies 49); W Jones (R Carre 64), K Owens (R Elias 74), D Lewis (L Brown67); J Ball, AW Jones (capt); A Wainwright (R Moriarty 49), J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Referee: R Poite (France)

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