IRELAND opened their Six Nations campaign with a resounding bonus point victory over Wales at a packed Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon, in a win that will have served as a signal to the rest of the world that this Irish team is going to take some stopping in 2023.
Ireland made a blistering start, pinning Wales into their own 22 almost directly from the kickoff, and after James Ryan had driven right up to the line, Conor Murray was able to feed the charging Caelan Doris to crash over the try-line after just two minutes.
Six minutes later and it was Ryan’s turn to score, as he took a pass from Finlay Bealham a couple of yards from the Welsh line, and aided by a strong latch by second-row partner Tadhg Beirne, he burrowed over to leave the Cardiff crowd shellshocked, as they starred at a 0-14 scoreboard.
Wales out-half Dan Biggar stopped the rot with a 14th-minute penalty, but Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton cancelled that out with one of his own in the 19th minute.
Ireland’s superb first quarter was capped when James Lowe plucked a wayward Biggar pass in his own 22 and he had the wheels to sprint down the left touchline for a simple 20th-minute score.
Terrible Welsh discipline ensured Ireland had almost a monopoly on possession and territory, and another Sexton penalty in the 27th minute made it 3-27, with Ireland scoring a point a minute at that juncture.
Wales badly needed a try and Jac Morgan thought he had scored in the 38th minute only to be denied by a superb tackle by Andrew Porter, who not only stopped the burly blindside but managed to get an arm under the ball too, to hold it up and force the big turnover, to ensure that Ireland enjoyed a 24 point buffer at half time.
Wales gave themselves some semblance of a lifeline when Biggar sent full-back Liam Williams under the Irish posts in the 45th minute, and while they dominated proceedings for the next twelve minutes they couldn’t make any in-roads on the scoreboard, as the Irish defence held firm.
Seventeen points down, the mountain Wales had to climb took on Snowdon proportions when Liam Williams was yellow-carded for a high hit on Sexton in the 65th minute.
Ireland had not scored since the 20th minute and Andy Farrell would have been worried that his side might leave Cardiff without a bonus point, but that fear was put to bed when Josh van der Flier dived under the posts in the 73rd minute, after being put away by Craig Casey – a score which put the game to bed, as Ireland won in Cardiff for the first time in a decade.
Biggar (1 pen, 1 con), L Williams (1 try).
Sexton (2 pens, 3 cons), Byrne (1 con), Doris, Ryan, Lowe, Van der Flier (1 try each).
L Williams; Adams, North, Hawkins, Dyer; Biggar, T Williams; Thomas, Owens (c), Francis; Beard, Wyn Jones; Morgan, Tipuric, Faletau.
Lewis for Francis (40), Carre and Reffell for Thomas and Tipuric (54), Baldwin and Jenkins for Owens and Wyn-Jones (60), Webb for T Williams (64), O Williams for Biggar (67), Cuthbert for Dyer (69).
Keenan; Hansen, Ringrose, McCloskey, Lowe; Sexton (c), Murray; Porter, Sheehan, Bealham; Beirne, Ryan; O'Mahony, van der Flier, Doris.
Henderson for Beirne (53), O’Toole, Conan and Aki for Bealham, O’Mahony and McCloskey (59), Casey for Murray (65), Byrne for Sexton (69), Herring and Kilcoyne for Porter and Sheehan (74).
Karl Dickson (RFU)