Ireland sweep Wales aside to keep Six Nations grand slam bid on track

<span>Joe McCarthy leads the celebrations after Dan Sheehan goes over to set <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Ireland;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Ireland</a> on the path to another dominant Six Nations victory against Wales.</span><span>Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile/Getty Images</span>

No sign of any letup. Ireland did not have to be at their best to beat Wales comfortably. The bonus point was not secured until the last play of the game, but you almost had to remind yourself that it had not been. This dismantling of a brave Wales team was total. Now for England at Twickenham.

Let us not reach for too many cliches, but that one about men and boys does spring to mind. Wales are hard and flexible, but do not possess anywhere near the firepower they were up against here. It was something of an achievement to turn around just 17-0 down. And then they tore into the second half. They needed a penalty try for their only points, scored just after the break, but Ireland did not like what the visitors were doing at that stage.

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No one really imagined a second-half comeback like Wales’s against Scotland in round one was on the cards. Sure enough, Ireland, having also suffered a yellow card, played their way out of the hole to secure the maximum points. That we are describing a 10-point lead as “a hole” says something about the dominance of this team.

For more than half an hour the flow was almost entirely one way. Not until the last minutes of the first half did Wales manage to reach the Irish 22. They were duly hounded into mistakes. There seemed nowhere for Wales to turn. If they were not repelling wave after wave of green shirts, which they did remarkably well in the early exchanges, they were enduring a fearful pounding at the set piece.

Ireland would not play at less than a hundred miles an hour, the ball rarely anywhere other than on Irish fingertips, Tadhg Furlong doing that fly-half thing he loves so well, as happy flipping passes off either hand as he is demolishing opposition looseheads.

Wales were quite unlucky to concede the first points, a penalty converted by Jack Crowley after Nick Tompkins ended up around James Lowe’s neck as the latter charged forwards with a posse of mates behind him. But there was not much arguing with the tries that followed.

Having put Wales through a non-stop defensive set for 20 minutes or so, Ireland resorted to more old-fashioned methods for their first try. Another fearsome pummelling at scrum-time was rewarded with a penalty, sent to the corner. Dan Sheehan, another front-row forward who might as well be a back, finished the subsequent lineout and drive.

Try number two came from another penalty to the corner – Wales conceded a flood of them during the onslaught. After some meaty drives brought Ireland to the brink, Calvin Nash was given a go on the right. He was stopped somehow but wasted no time looping round to the left, where his deft hands put Lowe over in the corner after more fingertip passing from everyone else. Crowley converted from the touchline – obviously – to give Ireland a 17-0 lead but the bombardment felt more relentless than that.

Wales were finally offered a couple of penalties in those five minutes before the break, both of which they sent to the corner too. No joy. They seemed to be running into brick walls. The mistakes followed inevitably.

But 17-0 down is nothing to these boys. Ireland in Dublin is not Scotland at home, where Wales recovered by scoring 26 points from 27-0 down, but Wales came out of the traps in a mood all the same. They won a penalty, another sent to the corner, and Tadhg Beirne conceded a penalty try and a yellow card by swimming up the side of the advancing maul.

Ireland spent most of the next 10 minutes playing more fingertip rugby, this as much to run down the clock as to make inroads into the Welsh defence. But now it was they who struggled to shake off the referee’s attention. Wales went for the corner three times, but Beirne returned for the third attacking lineout, which Ireland turned over.

The threat was more or less defused. Ireland were far from precise, but they bossed the next 20 minutes, until their match-securing try. Bundee Aki reckoned he had it, going over between the posts after yet more sweeping attacks, but Robbie Henshaw had knocked on in the buildup. No matter, Ireland had their third 15 minutes from time. Welsh hands in the ruck during another onslaught set Ireland up in the corner. Aki drove, so too did Jack Conan, before Crowley sent Ciarán Frawley, enjoying his first start, through a huge gap to the line.

In the last 10 minutes, Ireland suffered their second yellow card. They did the same as last time – got their hands on the ball and came at Wales, only this time they very definitely had try-scoring on their mind. Beirne it was who proved one last charging Irishman too many. Ireland had their bonus point. Another assignment ticked off.