| 1°C Dublin

Tight-five strength gives Larmour and Co room to run

Ireland 24 Wales 14

Close

Ireland's full-back Jordan Larmour (L) runs with the ball. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Ireland's full-back Jordan Larmour (L) runs with the ball. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Ireland's full-back Jordan Larmour (L) runs with the ball. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Throughout 2019, Tadhg Furlong cut a subdued figure. On Saturday, the Lion roared once again.

As Ireland limped from underwhelming performance to underwhelming performance before being humiliated by the All Blacks in Tokyo, the tourists of 2017 looked shadows of their former selves.

Against Wales, they cut confident figures for the first time in 18 months. They won collisions, they zipped around the park and made good decisions. It won't exorcise the ghosts of Japan, but it got the crowd back on side.

With the back three, in particular Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour, humming there is a temptation to focus on the team's commitment to play with width.

But that would overlook the contribution of a tight five that sensed weakness in the Welsh front-line and exploited it ruthlessly.

They were handed an early opportunity to make a mark, but conceded a scrum penalty.

After coughing up two and going backwards against the Scots, they could have wilted but instead they redoubled their efforts and won the battle that paved the way for the win.

Wales were out-muscled and couldn't get into the game.

Punish

Wayne Pivac has seen this movie before. Twice, he brought his Scarlets team to the Aviva Stadium to face Leinster and twice they were blown away.

Ireland don't yet have the cohesion to punish teams in the way the Leinster of 2018 did, but they had enough to put Wales away after huffing and puffing for 40 minutes.

With Jordan Larmour in the team, they have a man who can turn pressure into points.

His finish for the first try, beating four defenders in narrow space to power over was an important moment.

Furlong added a second with a big carry from close range, Josh van der Flier mauled over the third and the bonus-point score came from good wide play with Larmour finding Conway on the wing and he finished well.

It was a good range of scores and it got the Aviva crowd on their feet, but it was built on the strong work of a tight five on top of their game.

Cian Healy was industrious and Dave Kilcoyne came on and kept the energy levels up. Rob Herring upped his game from his first Six Nations start.

Furlong was immense and where he goes others follow.

Iain Henderson and James Ryan produced their best performances in green for some time, carrying and tackling well while also running a good set-piece.

They gave a platform for the back-row to play well, with Peter O'Mahony prominent and CJ Stander earning another man of the match gong on the back of his three turnover penalties.

Conor Murray had his best game in almost two years on the back of the clean supply of possession, Johnny Sexton looked confident and the centres were excellent.

What gives Ireland their new element of danger, however, is their new-look back-three and if they can get Jacob Stockdale into the kind of form his two colleagues are in they will be in an even better place.

When they review the match, they'll see a host of opportunities they passed up and a couple of Welsh attacks that looked threatening.

Their defence will be tested even more away from home, but the levels of execution improved massively from Scotland to Wales and, with a mini-camp this week and a full week to be ready for England on Sunday week there is time to get better.

It was, Sexton said, the most enjoyable experience for these Ireland players in green for some time.

"It wouldn't be hard after last year," he said. "It was brilliant. It had a bit of everything. It had some of the stuff that we didn't get to show against Scotland, when you get the ball in our back three's hands, something can happen.

"They showed that. They stuck to the tactics. In terms of when we got on the edge, the temptation is to run but they got us field position at times brilliantly. Some of our shape stuff was great.

"We won, that is the most important thing for us. We are building momentum but our biggest challenge is up ahead."

If they can get that sort of platform, they're a match for anyone.

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 Brown 67); J Ball, AW Jones (capt); A Wainwright (R Moriarty 49), J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Ref - R Poite (France)

Irish Independent