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Ireland keep heat on France

13th March 2010 12:49

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Tomas O Leary score against Wales

On song: Tomas O'Leary

Ireland did what was required of them on Saturday as they kept one hand on their Six Nations crown thanks to a 27-12 win over Wales at Croke Park.

While the struggling Welsh remain at the wrong end of the standings following three defeats, Declan Kidney and his charges can still have that hope that either Italy or latterly England do them a nice favour in Paris next weekend.

There was little for the visitors to take away from Croke Park as they found themselves outplayed for most of the contest. Keith Earls and Tomas O'Leary were the standouts while David Wallace also put in an fine shift at number seven.

Fly-half Jonathan Sexton kicked three penalties and a late drop-goal, while opposite number Stephen Jones booted four penalties, but Wales once again paid a huge price for poor discipline.

The home side repeated England's feat last month by scoring two tries while Wales had a player in the sin-bin, the first to Earls while O'Leary followed that up with a fine solo effort.

At Twickenham it was Alun-Wyn Jones who cost his team dear, and this time Lee Byrne's technical infringement opened the door for an Irish side that needed no second invitation.

Wales now find themselves in the wooden spoon mix alongside Scotland and Italy heading into next week's final round after their poor start, piling the pressure on Warren Gatland.

Ireland though, will clinch the Triple Crown if they beat Scotland next Saturday, and that would have been Brian O'Driscoll's objective, not the adulation reserved for his 100th cap.

Ireland were unchanged from the side that beat England at Twickenham last time out.

Wales lost skipper Ryan Jones to a calf muscle injury, so Gloucester's Gareth Delve deputised at number eight with flanker Martyn Williams taking over as captain.

It was Williams' 95th cap, breaking Colin Charvis' appearance record for a Wales forward, while hooker Matthew Rees made his first start of the championship and lock Luke Charteris gained a recall alongside second-row partner Bradley Davies.

O'Driscoll - the second Irish player to reach 100 caps after his team-mate John Hayes - inevitably received a rapturous reception as he led Ireland out.

But his team struggled to make early headway, despite flanker David Wallace and lock Paul O'Connell featuring as prominent ball carriers.

Sexton missed a long-range penalty chance and there was more composure about Wales as Jones booted them into a 10th-minute lead before failing to find the target from much longer distance.

The sparring continued during a muted opening quarter, although Ireland offered a flash of their attacking prowess when Bowe glided through a midfield gap.

And that was the cue for Wales to reach for a self-destruct button they had found far too readily in this season's championship.

Byrne was sin-binned for killing the ball just three minutes after a second Sexton penalty, and Ireland immediately made their temporary numerical advantage count.

The home side saw centre Gordon D'Arcy limp off but Earls - moved from wing to centre as Rob Kearney replaced D'Arcy - struck through a well-worked try.

A slick O'Driscoll pass gave him all the room he needed to manoeuvre himself outside Charteris' despairing lunge for a score that settled Irish nerves.

Although Sexton missed a simple conversion, Ireland were rapidly back on the attack, and with Byrne still watching from the sidelines, they struck another telling blow.

This time it was O'Connell who emerged with possession and he sent O'Leary sprinting unopposed through a disorganised Welsh defence.

The visitors' worst fears had been realised through another miserable first-half performance, their fifth in succession, including this season's autumn Test series finale against Australia.

A second Jones penalty halted Ireland's scoring blitz, but Wales had once again given themselves a mountain to climb.

It was a depressing scenario for their suffering supporters, although there was immediate hope when Wales started the second period by camping inside Ireland's 22.

Wales opted to use their scrum as an attacking weapon as they exerted pressure, yet Ireland thwarted Welsh ambitions by clearing the danger and then stormed upfield while O'Driscoll received treatment following a heavy collision.

Sexton's third successful penalty, awarded after Byrne threw the ball away, stretched Ireland's advantage to 13 points, before Earls' second try finished Wales off.

Wales boss Warren Gatland made five substitutions between the 57th and 67th minutes, but it made little difference to the overall picture as Ireland closed out a relatively comfortable afternoon's work through an effortless Sexton drop-goal.

Man of the match: Tomas O'Leary was a very useful cog for Ireland but the finishing and speed coming from left wing Keith Earls proved just why Declan Kidney is giving his old Munster student an extended run in the XV. Top class with two tries his reward.

Moment of the match: The Welsh will be regretting not taking the points on offer in the 49th minute as they were robbed at scrum-time with the scores at 16-6. The momentum was with them before that but quickly changed hands as Ireland extended their lead soon after.

Villain of the match: I suppose if we have to then Lee Byrne for his first-half yellow card, which led to Keith Earls picking up the first of his two.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries: Earls 2, O'Leary
Pen: Sexton 3
Drop: Sexton

For Wales:
Pen: Jones 4

Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace , 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Shane Jennings, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Robert Kearney.

Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 James Hook, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Martyn Williams (c), 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Ian Gough, 19 Sam Warburton, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 Andrew Bishop, 22 Tom Shanklin

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

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