Six Nations 2014: Imperious Ireland dominate Wales in Dublin
Six Nations 2014: Ireland run out emphatic 26-3 winners against defending champions Wales at the Aviva Stadium
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland out-thought and out-fought Wales as tries from Ulster pair Chris Henry and Paddy Jackson sealed a comprehensive 26-3 in Dublin and asserted their Six Nations title credentials.
Schmidt got the better of his Kiwi counterpart Warren Gatland with a perfectly-executed game plan build on aggressive defence, an impervious set-piece and a probing kicking game, orchestrated by Jonny Sexton.
Schmidt lamented the absence of Sean O’Brien in the week but flankers Henry and Peter O’Mahony were colossal and Wales’ much-revered back line could not get out of first gear.
Indeed for Wales, who had just a Leigh Halfpenny penalty to show for their efforts, the quest for a fourth Grand Slam in ten years is over but for Ireland – in Brian O’Driscoll’s swansong Six Nations campaign – it’s becoming increasing more of a possibility.
Ireland showed their intent into to bombard Wales with high kicks early on but the visitors almost capitalised immediately when Halfpenny fielded the ball and popped it to Scott Williams.
He in turn found Jamie Roberts but he knocked on with George North waiting on the outside.
here was plenty of blood and thunder in the opening stages – Paul O’Connell made on huge hit on fellow British & Irish Lion Dan Lydiate.
Lydiate responded in kind on seven minutes but he was pinged for not rolling away and Sexton nailed the penalty to give Ireland the lead.
The Welsh defence was brutal and Ireland, enjoying plenty of early possession, could not find a way through. The defending champions were however, overstepping the mark on occasion – Lydiate was culpable on more than one occasion – ensuring the hosts also had the better of the territory.
Scott Williams put a big hit on O’Driscoll and the Ireland centre had to receive treatment but it was his opposite number who limped off, replaced by namesake Liam Williams.
While Wales’ defence was stoic, Ireland did double their advantage on 16 minutes when Wales were penalised for not rolling away and as the half wore on, their momentum continued to build.
Conor Murray’s box-kicking was superb and Sexton continued to put Wales under pressure with inch-perfect kicks to the corner and while Wales’ set-piece wobbled, Ireland’s was flawless – thanks in no small part to Paul O’Connell and his giant second-row partner Devin Toner.
Andrew Trimble sparked something from nothing on 27 minutes, dancing through Wales tackles down the right but he was desperately lacking in support and the visitors forced the turnover.
But four minutes later, Ireland had the first try of the match. Rob Kearney launched an up and under and while it appeared that he and Halfpenny both caught the ball, Ireland recycled and fed Sexton, who chipped into the right-hand corner.
Rhys Priestland gathered but took the ball into touch under pressure from Jamie Heaslip and from the lineout, a brutish driving maul from Ireland saw Henry touch down.
Sexton converted from the right touchline and more expert kicking from the fly-half threatened to see Ireland extend their advantage and while he missed a penalty from inside his own half on just before half-time, Joe Schmidt’s men led 13-0 at the break.
Soon after the break Ireland extended their lead when O’Driscoll’s grubber kick took a deflected and gave the hosts a lineout in the Wales 22.
O’Connell won the ball and was taken out, handing Sexton another three points after Ireland were unable to capitalise on their advantage.
Finally, Wales then strung some phases together and began to look dangerous but despite threatening the Ireland line, the imperious Peter O’Mahony produced yet another turnover.
Wales were on the board on 55 minutes when Gethin Jenkins got the better of replacement Martin Moore in the scrum and Halfpenny kicked his first penalty.
But with the rain coming down, Ireland stuck to their guns – launching high kicks and reaping the rewards. On the hour mark it was Jenkins who was penalised for hands in at the ruck and Sexton restored his side’s 16-point lead.
Nothing was going Wales’ way and on 67 minutes, when they built numerous phases and worked their way to just short of the try-line, Rhodri Jones was penalised when going for the score.
Wales huffed and puffed in trying to get back into the game but Sexton and Kearney ensured they could make no significant territory gains with some booming long kicks.
With the clock ticking down, Ireland knew victory was theirs – a 78th-minute penalty was kicked to the corner rather than at goal by Jackson, who touched down and converted after another bruising driving maul from the forwards.
And after two wins from their opening two matches – the first time they’ve done so since their 2009 Grand Slam – they will head to Twickenham in two weeks’ time with a spring in their step after cementing their place at the top of the Six Nations table.