Six NationsMatch Report

Business as usual for relentless Ireland as they subdue Welsh challenge

Record-extending 18th consecutive home win signals another major step towards the Grand Slam

Six Nations: Ireland 31 Wales 7

It’s either a wonderful or sad state of affairs, or maybe it’s both.

Ireland yet again found a way to subdue a spirited Wales side and register a try-scoring bonus point for the 10th time in a record-equalling 11th successive win in the Six Nations. Yet the verdict from many of the majority of the crowd appeared to be, oh well, ho-hum.

Irish rugby has never had it so good and, as another flat Aviva occasion unfolded, the thought occurred that maybe in some ways Irish rugby now has it too good.

To put this record-extending 18th consecutive win at home into further perspective, it equalled the winning margin of the opening win in Cardiff which kick-started last season’s Grand Slam, and these are the joint biggest Irish defeats of Wales since 2006.


Admittedly the muted atmosphere was in part due to the utter stranglehold which Ireland established in a one-sided first period. This was hardly reflected in the 17-0 scoreline, courtesy of another all-in, catch-and-drive try for Dan Sheehan and a walk-in for James Lowe to complete a multiphase attack after a brilliant carry by Joe McCarthy and deft hands by Jack Crowley (also perfect off the tee) and the hard-working Calvin Nash.

Hence, the best thing that happened the game in making it something resembling a Six Nations ‘occasion’ was Wales being awarded a penalty try and Tadhg Beirne being binned for supposedly changing his bind, according to the eagle-eyed touch judge Karl Dickson.

This was the first points conceded by Ireland in 150 minutes since an equally questionable lineout maul try was awarded to France early in the second half at the Stade Velodrome. But it at least served to enliven the crowd.

Over seven minutes of Beirne’s were used up in one exhaustive spell of rugby in which both sides refused to kick the ball dead, followed by another big defensive set. Then, as a river of penalties flowed for the Welsh in a flip from the first half by the erratic Andrea Piardi, immediately upon his return Beirne spoiled a close-range Welsh lineout by ripping the ball from Elliot Dee.

As Wales again sought to make it a three-point game nearing the hour mark, Ireland repelled a 19-phase attack which ended with Rónan Kelleher latching over Dee after Andrew Porter’s tackle to win a relieving penalty.

Early on, turnovers in the jackal by Bundee Aki and Porter had stemmed initial Welsh forays, and big hits by Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris on George North closed the door on the visitors approaching half-time.

Even when Wales looked for a consolation score after James Ryan became the second sinbinning by the card-happy Piardi, Cian Healy held up Aaron Wainwright over the line.

Allowing for Wales’ lack of big carriers and attacking limitations, Ireland still had to make nearly as many tackles (190 compared to 194). Yet they only missed 15 compared to 36 by Wales, as well as conceding just one line break while making a dozen of their own.

“Our defence is top drawer, there’s no doubt about that,” said head coach Andy Farrell afterwards. “It has been for quite some time now. It was unbelievably fitting that we kept them out because of the fight and want to be able to do that. The try came from a maul.

“I thought our defensive shape wasn’t very nice at times but our intent, certainly on the line, said a lot about how much they love defending for one another. That and the improvement in the scrum is there for all to see.”

In all of this, it’s doubtful that Ireland have ever had a more impactful bench, and the last half-hour demonstrated this.

While the magnificent Doris led the way with 21 tackles, followed by Beirne on 15, in typically big shifts, and the Aki-Robbie Henshaw axis outperformed their Welsh counterparts, each of the half-dozen forwards introduced for the endgame were all in double figures.

Jack Conan made 14 tackles in his half-hour, followed by Kelleher with 13 in his 26 minutes and 11 each by the ever-energetic Healy (in just eight minutes), Oli Jager, Ryan and Ryan Baird.

But their impact was just as significant on the ball. When Kelleher backed up his big turnover with his first big carry to break the tackles of Dillon Lewis (who at least locked the Welsh scrum) and Tommy Reffell, it marked the final telling shift in momentum.

Ireland’s short passing and offloading game had been relatively well stifled by the hard-working Welsh defence, which kept its spacings and width. But with the introduction of the rumblers, Ireland were more direct and it paid off.

Although Ireland had a brilliant try, finished by the outstanding Aki, dubiously ruled out by the TMO Eric Gauzins for a far from clearcut knock on by Henshaw, the die was cast.

Kelleher, Baird and Conan kept punching holes, and from a catch-and-drive, big carries by Aki and Conan paved the opening for Ciarán Frawley to mark his full Test debut with a try.

Doris, as he does, kept imposing his sheer will on the game too. After Stuart McCloskey’s hit and counter-ruck in tandem with Conan, the number eight’s carry and ensuing offload to Crowley led to Conor Murray feeding Beirne to secure the bonus point by beating the weary Welsh captain Dafydd Jenkins to complete an 18-phase attack.

It was possibly Ireland’s most fluent attack of the match and, as Farrell rightly said: “We do find a way and don’t try and complicate it too much.”

Discussing his 6-2 bench, Farrell said: “It’s always based on whether they’re going to add to the performance. You look at Tadhg [Furlong] has not played minutes, Pete’s not played many minutes, so all these type of things add up to your decision making.

“Jack Conan is playing on the bench and I know he started last time against Italy, but he is in tremendous form. So it’s not as though being on the bench for us any more is about starters and substitutions that didn’t make the starting team. They’re the guys that added to the performance.”

Asked what goes through his head when Baird galloped into open space twice in quick succession, Farrell laughed. “What goes through my head is that he’s taking off and I know for a fact that he doesn’t know what he’s doing either.

“He’s brilliant to watch though, isn’t he? And to do that, he got the ball back again straight away within five seconds and went back through again. Look, along with all the rest of the guys coming on, they’re explosive athletes, and it’s hard to handle, isn’t it?”

It sure was here.

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