5:15pm Saturday 8th February 2014
By Iwan Gabe Davies
WALES’ dreams of becoming the first side to win three successive Six Nations titles lies in tatters after they were given a battering by Ireland.
Outmuscled, outthought and outgunned, Warren Gatland’s predictable Wales were outstandingly bad and could have lost by even more if the Irish had shown a little more flair and ambition.
Wales were lucky Ireland were so conservative and had Conor Murray at scrum-half.
It was Wales’ biggest Six Nations defeat since Ireland humiliated them 31-5 in Dublin in 2006 and this was as bad as that shocking display in the bad old days of caretaker coach Scott Johnson.
In fact, Wales should ask the Irish Rugby Football Union if they wouldn’t awfully mind having a swap of Kiwi coaches, to give up Gatland for Joe Schmidt.
The hosts showed their heroic defeat to New Zealand in November under their new guru, who worked wonders at Leinster, wasn’t a one off, while Wales demonstrated their poor performance in the opening Six Nations win over Italy wasn’t just a blip.
Ireland were an excellent well drilled unit, their pack outstanding while Wales’ forwards were a rabble, their play often shambolic. The home side’s forwards dominated huge chunks of the game with Wales having no Plan B to back up the tired and threadbare Plan A.
Once Wales are matched up front and are unable to bully the opposition, there’s nothing to fall back on.
They were given a golden chance to bring James Hook on for injured centre Scott Williams to provide relief from the thud and blunder of Jamie Roberts and George North, but the shocking treatment meted out to one of Wales’ most talented players of this generation continues.
It all started so differently after a frantic and engrossing opening saw both sides go at each other hammer and tongs but it was the Irish who started to get a grip on the game as they began to monopolise territory and possession.
They turned that into points through their outside-half Jonathan Sexton slotting over two penalties to give them a 6-0 lead after 17 minutes.
Wales looked to spread the ball and attack from deep, number eight Taulupe Faletau setting off on a super run.
Ireland played things tighter, looking to go through the phases with their beefy pack and favouring the driving lineouts and rolling mauls causing Wales serious problems.
They also put the visitors under the cosh at the lineout and secured some key turnovers when Wales looked to get back into the game and build some momentum.
Ireland could have stretched their lead when wing Andrew Trimble created chaos in the Wales defence only for the home side to cough up the ball inches from the visitors’ try-line, Adam Jones gratefully picking up as his team managed to clear.
Wales wasted a glorious chance to get some points on the board when they won a lineout five metres from Ireland’s line, only for hooker Richard Hibbard to throw a calamitous ball in, Ireland then going downfield to score soon after.
Full-back Rob Kearney caught his own up and under, beating Leigh Halfpenny to the ball, Sexton then kicked ahead before Rhys Priestland was forced to carry into touch.
Openside flanker Chris Henry then ploughed over for a try from Ireland’s favourite weapon, the driving lineout.
Sexton’s touchline conversion gave his side a thoroughly deserved 13-0 lead after 33 minutes.
The hosts were dominating affairs, holding Wales in an extremely uncomfortable grip for the visiting side.
Wales were battered in the first half and the first 40 ended with Paul O’Connell’s men in complete command.
The visitors lost Scott Williams after just 17 minutes, the midfielder coming off second best ultimately after be battered his opposite number Brian O’Driscoll in a tackle.
Liam Williams came on for him with North moving into the centre from the wing.
The second half started no better for Wales as their opponents kept them in the vice, Sexton’s 45th minute penalty putting them 16-0 up.
It was a mirror of the first half again with Wales being turned over again when they managed to set themselves up in fleeting promising positions, because some of their forward play was, frankly, shambolic.
A fortunate scrum penalty gave Wales their opening points when Halfpenny slotted a penalty in the 54th minute but it was soon cancelled out by another three-pointer from Sexton.
Wales should have scored a try in the 67th minute when replacement prop Rhodri Jones came inches short but was penalised for holding on.
Replacement fly-half Paddy Jackson rubbed salt in the wound in the closing minutes when he crossed for his side’s second try, Liam Williams hitting him with a cheap, late tackle with his elbow after the Ulster man had touched down.
Handbags flew and scrum-half Mike Phillips was yellow carded for his part. Ireland could have got a third try in the dying seconds when they broke from deep as Wales searched for a consolation try.
Forget a Six Nations title hat trick, if Wales don’t improve hugely and quickly, it’ll be a Wooden Spoon this year.
Ireland are looking good though and could well be in the running for silverware.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble (Fergus McFadden 61), Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Dave Kearney, Jonathan Sexton (Paddy Jackson 74), Conor Murray (Isaac Boss 77); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath 67), Rory Best (Sean Cronin 73), Mike Ross (Martin Moore 54), Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell (capt) (Dan Tuohy 54) (Tommy O'Donnell 64), Peter O'Mahony, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip
Scorers: Tries – Chris Henry (33) Paddy Jackson (77), Conversions – Jonathan Sexton (33), Paddy Jackson (77), Penalties – Jonathan Sexton (8) (17) (45) (59)
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams (Liam Williams 17), Jamie Roberts, George North, Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins (Paul James 71), Richard Hibbard (Ken Owens 61), Adam Jones (Rhodri Jones 61), Andrew Coombs (Jake Ball 71), Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate (Justin Tipuric 71), Sam Warburton (capt), Taulupe Faletau Replacements: Rhys Webb, James Hook,
Scorer: Penalty– Leigh Halfpenny (54)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Argus star man: Jonathan Sexton
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