Six NationsMatch Report

Ireland claim bonus-point win over Wales despite patchy performance

Tadhg Beirne’s try with the last play of the game helps Ireland make it a third five-point haul

Six Nations: Ireland 31 Wales 7

Another bonus-point win for Ireland as they equalled the all-time record of 11 wins in a row in the Six Nations, thereby matching England’s run in 2015/16, and extended their record home run to 17 successive wins. But that hardly tells the tale.

A young, passionate, fired-up, defensively well-organised Wales team kept this game in the balance into the final quarter before Ciarán Frawley’s first Test try in the 67th minute finally gave Ireland breathing room in what was a competitive Guinness Six Nations match.

Ireland dominated the first half to lead 17-0, thanks in the main to their scrum and lineout maul, with man of the match Bundee Aki taking the fight continuously with his footwork and carrying.

But their close-passing game on the gainline was largely well-contained by the Welsh defence. The fastidious Andrea Piardi and his officials whistled two hitherto disciplined sides off the pitch, with Ireland conceding nine second-half penalties and two yellow cards.


Ultimately, as one expected would be the case, Ireland’s version of the Bomb Squad in their new 6-2 bench configuration and a more direct carrying game from the likes of Rónan Kelleher, Ryan Baird and Jack Conan, and their superior fitness, eventually subdued the callow but exuberant visitors.

The weather could hardly have been more favourable on a February Six Nations Saturday afternoon, with scarcely a breeze, yet the atmosphere was again library-like.

The capacity looked on relatively quietly, engaged if not involved, as the game’s pattern of Ireland going through their running and passing rhythm while Wales maintained a huge focus in defence, maintaining their numbers and their spacing, and making their tackles.

Aki’s strength over the ball quickly stifled one Welsh attack before Jack Crowley kicked Ireland ahead after a high tackle by Nick Tompkins before Andrew Porter tried to exhort the crowd into life after winning another penalty in the jackal.

Instead, it was the Welsh crowd – many of whom would have been up since darkness to catch the ferry over – who burst into song with a rendition of Land of My Fathers and it was all of 25 minutes before a faint blast of The Fields gathered some voice.

By then Ireland had struck as their pack power demonstrated that if the Irish rapier doesn’t dissect a team, then they can always turn to their bludgeon. It was the scrum, which in the eyes of Wayne Barnes would probably have been penalised, which was permitted to turn the screw by Piardi, the championship’s first Italian referee.

In fairness, some of the crowd did manage a roar prior to a 19th-minute Welsh put-in, as by then they could sense Ireland’s increasing supremacy and after the visiting frontrow capitulated, the penalty was kicked to the corner.

Dan Sheehan, who had been held up over the line from a previous maul, hit Tadhg Beirne at the front, the drive gathered traction, Aki and James Lowe joined in, as did Jamison Gibson-Park and Crowley just as the Irish hooker could be seen grounding the ball beneath the pile of bodies by the well-positioned Piardi for his ninth try in 24 caps.

Despite a second overthrow/mistimed lift, Peter O’Mahony again asked Crowley to kick to the corner which he did perfectly rather than take on a straight 30-metre penalty. This time the Welsh pack again repelled the drive before putting their shoulders to the wheel with a sequence of tackles across their try line.

But Joe McCarthy stepped Aaron Wainwright before plundering some extra metres after contact to soak in a phalanx of defenders, thus creating the numbers for Crowley and Calvin Nash, with a deft transfer to lay on Lowe’s 14th try in 29 Tests.

Crowley also landed the touchline conversion before Ireland repelled three Welsh attacks, twice stopping attacking mauls after penalties to the corner, as Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris put in big tackles on Josh Adams and George North before a knock-on by Alex Mann.

This meant Ireland had kept their opponents scoreless for three halves in a row, and for 148 minutes in total, while Wales were kept pointless for the second period in succession.

But these sequences soon came to a sudden end when McCarthy was pinged at a maul, Wales went to the corner and were awarded a penalty try, with Beirne being pinned for supposedly changing his bind, largely at the behest of the touch judge Karl Dickson.

It looked barely discernible, if at all, but it served to both imbue the Welsh with belief and even briefly inflame the crowd. Ireland held Wales out and were grateful for Beirne’s return when he muscularly won a turnover after Wales went to the corner and set up another drive.

Kelleher set the tone from the replacements, first by immediately winning a turnover penalty in the jackal to end an 18-phase Welsh attack which even sparked chants of ‘Ire-land’.

Kelleher backed this up with a leg-pumping line break, as did Lowe from Robbie Henshaw’s inside pass before linking with Gibson-Park. Nash was held up in the corner before it appeared Aki had scored, only for the try to be ruled out by the French TMO Eric Gauzins for a barely discernible forward tip-on by Henshaw.

But the direct carrying of the Irish replacement forwards was making an impact, and forced a penalty when Tommy Reffell might have been binned for playing the ball on the deck. Doris, taking over the captaincy after O’Mahony was replaced, asked Crowley to kick to the corner.

From the catch-and-drive, Aki and Conan’s direct carries splintered and soaked up the Welsh defence, affording Frawley an untouched run-in for his first Test try on his full debut.

Another succession of penalties against Ireland looked like yielding another try, but Cian Healy lifted the siege by holding up Wainwright over the line. Instead, Ireland mounted one last hurrah, going through 13 phases with Doris making the main incisions with first a carry and then an offload to the supporting Crowley. From the recycle, Conor Murray fed Beirne who broke the tackle of the weary Welsh captain Dafydd Jenkins to score.

The supporters were heading for the exit as Crowley landed his fifth kick from five. Cue Zombie being blared out, but the crowd had long since begun to file away en masse. This was no Stade de France.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 7 mins: Crowley pen, 3-0; 21: Sheehan try, Crowley con, 10-0; 32: Lowe try, Crowley con, 17-0; (half-time 17-0); 43: Penalty try 17-7; 67: Frawley try, Crowley con, 24-7; 81: Beirne try, Crowley con 31-7.

IRELAND: Ciarán Frawley (Leinster); Calvin Nash (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster, capt), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Jack Conan (Leinster) for Van der Flier (51 mins), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster) for Sheehan, Oli Jager (Munster) for Furlong, James Ryan (Leinster) for McCarthy, Ryan Baird (Leinster) for O’Mahony (all 55), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) for Nash (66), Conor Murray (Munster) for Gibson-Park (70), Cian Healy (Leinster) for Porter (73).

Sinbinned: Beirne (43 mins), Ryan (76 mins).

WALES: Cameron Winnett (Cardiff); Josh Adams (Cardiff), George North (Ospreys), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Rio Dyer (Dragons); Sam Costelow (Scarlets), Tomos Williams (Cardiff); Gareth Thomas (Ospreys), Elliot Dee (Dragons), Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff); Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs, capt), Adam Beard (Ospreys); Alex Mann (Cardiff), Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons).

Replacements: Dillon Lewis (Harlequins) for Assiratti (51 mins), Will Rowlands (Racing 92) for Beard, Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff) for Mann (both 55), Mason Grady (Cardiff) for Adams (57), Ryan Elias (Scarlets) for Thomas, Corey Domachowski (Cardiff) for Dee (both 65), Kieran Hardy (Scarlets) for Williams (68), Ioan Lloyd (Scarlets) for Costelow (73), Costelow for Winnett (76).

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times