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Ireland suffocate subdued Wales

08th February 2014 16:18

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Try scorer: Chris Henry

Ruthless, clinical and unrelenting, Ireland confirmed their status as title contenders with a convincing 26-3 win over Wales.

A try from Chris Henry and 14 points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton guided Ireland to victory, a second win in six days and one that was never in doubt. It looked as though Ireland had enjoyed an extra day's rest between matches, not Wales.

Sexton produced an impressive tactical kicking performance as Ireland controlled territory and the majority of possession throughout. Joe Schmidt's side were not perfect but they were hugely effective at shutting Wales down across the park.

Ireland's strengths lay in their line-out and aggression at the breakdown, muting Wales into submission as the champions produced an alarming sub-par showing. Their big players, their leaders - Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones and George North - were silent.

At times Wales just looked suffocated, yet to find their top form in this year's competition and now facing an uphill battle to retain their title for a third time. On the evidence of this, it will not happen.

So much wrongly was made of Brian O'Driscoll facing Warren Gatland for the first time since the Lions - as opposed to focusing on a matchup between two top sides - but it looked as though he would depart after 12 minutes following a monster hit from Scott Williams. Not to be denied, even at 34, O'Driscoll of course returned to his feet.

This match though was not about O'Driscoll, industrious as he was. The effort of Ireland's forwards was phenomenal and Peter O'Mahony richly deserved his Man of the Match award.

The Munster captain was a whirlwind at the ruck area and in defence, popping up with an uncanny persistence whenever Wayne Barnes penalised Wales for the umpteenth time. He epitomised Ireland's effort; aggressive and uncompromising.

An early knock to Gethin Jenkins caused Wales concern before they embarked on the opening attack, Ireland though surviving the early test with a win at the breakdown from O'Mahony.

Ireland consequently surged back up the field, Dave Kearney making the key burst to put the hosts behind the defence and Sexton scoring the first points of the match with a penalty after Dan Lydiate was penalised.

Persistent penalties haunted Lydiate in the opening quarter, his indiscrepancies resulting in a second Sexton three-pointer. Wales effectively were killing themselves through indiscipline, and lost Scott Williams to injury before the first 20 minutes was over.

Ireland's breakdown supremacy continued in a match focused more on physicality than slight of hand, with an emphasis on kicking and caution typical of a Northern Hemisphere game with so much on the line.

Seven penalties conceded by Wales after 25 minutes summed up their plight. A mis-communication for a key attacking line-out adding another line beneath it.

Ireland's five-metre line-out a minute later fared much better - Toner with the take and Henry refusing to be denied as he burrowed his over with a little help from his friends. Wales were staring down the barrel, 13-0 down after half an hour.

Sexton's first half had been almost flawless but he did miss a penalty from inside his own half at the break, Ireland though remaining ahead with a comfortable advantage.

The Racing Métro number ten might have been unsettled in Paris, but back in the familiar comforts of Dublin he was thriving, adding his third penalty after the interval.

Wales' task at 16-0 down seemed impossible and their hopes of some first points in the 48th minute were snuffed by O'Mahony, whose form over these opening two matches has been exceptional.

It took Wales 56 minutes just to get some points on the board, Leigh Halfpenny striking a penalty won at the scrum. Sexton responded instantly, the 16-point margin restored and taunting Wales as the match ticked on.

Mike Phillips sought to provide inspiration with a couple of tapped penalties but when Rhodri Jones was pinged for double movement inches from the line it typified Wales' afternoon.

It was to be their last salvo, Ireland grinding down the clock in their visitors' half as they had done all afternoon.

Paddy Jackson's try was a fitting ending, coming from the power of Ireland's maul. They are very much in contention, raising the possibility of giving O'Driscoll the perfect goodbye.

Man of the Match: The accolades should flow Peter O'Mahony's way. Prominent at the breakdown, in defence and at the line-out - he looks like a future captain.

Moment of the Match: Ireland had enjoyed plenty of possession but only had six points when Chris Henry flopped over for the first try. It opened the scoreboard up.

Villain of the Match: The needless handbags from Mike Phillips after Jackson's try summed up his and Wales' frustration.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries: Henry, Jackson
Cons: Sexton, Jackson
Pens: Sexton 4

For Wales:
Pen: Halfpenny

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (c), 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), JP Doyle (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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