Storm Ciara arrived early in the Irish capital. Ireland battered Wales with a sustained ferocity and while most teams would have been blown away, the champions clung to the wreckage of their afternoon so tightly that it was only five minutes from the end that they conceded the bonus point the home side’s dominance had merited.
Ireland were unrecognisable from the week before when they had laboured against Scotland. They tore into Wales from the kick-off, regularly achieving width against a narrow defence, and targeted the Wales centre Nick Tompkins, who was making his first Test start after coming off the bench against Italy the week before.
Robbie Henshaw twice went through Tompkins in the opening 15 minutes and the Saracens centre was caught out at the end of the third quarter as he drifted across field and was stepped by Jordan Larmour, whose instant acceleration took him through the tackles of Tomos Williams and Josh Adams and over the line for the opening score.
Wales opted to play into the wind and it meant they struggled for territory as Ireland built momentum. The tone was set in the opening minute when Jacob Stockdale was set free on the left wing and kicked to the Wales line. Dan Biggar was engulfed after being forced to pick up the ball just short of his line and conceded a scrum.
That came to nothing because Wyn Jones won a penalty off Tadhg Furlong. The Wales players celebrated a battle won, but nothing like the Ireland forward 18 minutes from the end after Wales’s one period of sustained attacking. The visitors, who were looking to equal their record of nine successive victories in the championship, were trailing 19-7 and had just wasted a chance when Hadleigh Parkes narrowly lost control of the ball as he stretched out for the line.
Ireland had made the most of Stuart Hogg’s failure to ground the ball the week before and as Wales looked to profit from a five-metre scrum, Dave Kilcoyne put pressure on Dillon Lewis. The Wales tighthead went to ground and the roar from the Irish eight was almost as loud as the crowd when the referee, Romain Poite, raised his arm in the air and pointed it towards the men in green.
They were two costly moments Wales will look back on as turning points. A third, and the most calamitous, came after 31 minutes when the Wales captain, Alun Wyn Jones, won a lineout eight metres from his line and sent the ball into the hands of Tomos Williams, for what should have been a routine clearance. The scrum-half seemed to be thinking about his clearance rather than taking possession and knocked on.
Ireland used the scrum to set up a forward rumble and two phases later, Furlong powered through his opposite number Lewis. It was a snapshot of the afternoon: Ireland were stronger and more direct, winning the physical contest by some distance, but despite the pressure they were under, Wales generally kept their discipline and that kept them in the game.
They were in one sense relieved to get to the interval only 12-7 down. Their try, scored by Tomos Williams four minutes before his knock-on, typified their approach under the head coach, Wayne Pivac – midfield off-loads by Alun Wyn Jones, who led by an example that not enough of his colleagues followed, and Biggar creating a hole in the defence the scrum-half’s pace exploited. But Wales lacked the intensity of their opponents and too many of their moves ended with unforced handling errors.
Wales had little chance to use the wind when Ireland extended their lead – Josh van der Flier at the end of a driving maul, although on review there looked to be as much evidence for denying the try as awarding it.
Peter O’Mahony personified Ireland’s aggression, CJ Stander haunted Wales at the breakdown, powerful over the ball, and Ireland’s front five were on the front foot in attack and defence, allowing Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton to dictate from half-back. Henshaw spent the 43 minutes he was on the field, before suffering a head injury, trying to prove why he should have started against Scotland. Ireland’s back three rippled with menace.
Andrew Conway scored Ireland’s bonus-point try five minutes from time and while Wales had the last word through Justin Tipuric, they were well beaten and after losing the replacement Owen Williams, who strained a hamstring in the warm-up, Adams lasted 25 minutes before going off with a hip injury. Biggar’s clash with Henshaw resulted in the Wales No 10 failing a head injury assessment for the third time in less than five months. A long lay-off may follow in a position where Pivac is already without two players.
Ireland are at Twickenham in the next round while Wales are at home to France. A grand slam is looking less likely in a tournament when the majority of teams are under new management.
More information: THE GUARDIAN.