Wales boss Warren Gatland backs Ireland for Grand Slam glory

Wales boss Warren Gatland backed Ireland to clinch back-to-back Grand Slam titles after his side suffered a 31-7 Guinness Six Nations defeat in Dublin.

Tries from Dan Sheehan, James Lowe, Ciaran Frawley and Tadhg Beirne kept Andy Farrell’s reigning champions on course to become the first team to achieve the feat in the Six Nations era.

Ireland travel to Twickenham to take on England on March 9 before hosting Scotland on the final weekend of the tournament.

Gatland, who led Wales to three Grand Slams during his first spell in charge, believes Ireland’s ominous march towards another clean sweep will be difficult to stop.

“I think they’re definitely capable of doing it,” he said. “They’ve got the experience and the composure and players who can carry and get them on the front foot.

“I think they will be a hard team to knock over.”

Wales went into the break 17-0 down on the back of a third scoreless half in as many games.

An improved second-half showing, which brought the consolation of a penalty try followed by a yellow card for Ireland lock Beirne, sparked brief hope of a fightback before the visitors slipped to a third successive loss following narrow defeats to Scotland and England.

Gatland felt his inexperienced team showed “huge heart and character” at the Aviva Stadium and thought the margin of victory flattered the hosts.

“The scoreline at the end probably didn’t reflect the effort we put in,” he said.

“At 17-7, attacking their 22, we didn’t come away with anything.

“We just didn’t get a foothold in the game in the first half. I thought there were a couple of tough calls against us so it was difficult to get momentum.

“I can’t question the effort of the players and how hard they worked.

Ireland v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Aviva Stadium
Tadhg Beirne (centre right) celebrates with team-mates after scoring Ireland’s fourth try (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We showed some huge heart and character today.

“The scoreline’s probably not right. But it does reflect the difference between the two sides at the moment, where we are and where they are in terms of experience.”

Ireland had a Bundee Aki try chalked off on review at 17-7 for a knock on by Robbie Henshaw before Frawley and Beirne dived over to put the result beyond doubt.

Head coach Farrell disagreed with Gatland’s view on the final scoreline as his side equalled England’s championship record of 11 successive wins with an 18th victory in a row at home.

He also questioned the decision of Italian referee Andrea Piardi to award the penalty try but praised his players’ reaction to Beirne’s temporary absence.

“It probably should have been 40 or 44-7, there were a couple of tries that were notched off there,” said Farrell.

“If you fast-forward right to the end result and then work your way back, I thought we were tenacious to be able to get to that point, a 31-7 win with a bonus point.

“There was all sorts of stuff going on in that game, some of it was our own doing but most of it was because we played against a tenacious Welsh side as well, so congratulations to them, but we stuck at it and brought them down in the end.”

He added: “(I’m) a bit confused with the penalty try and when the ball is not down, or you can’t see whether the ball is down or not, I don’t know how that can be a penalty try.

Andy Farrell celebrated another win as Ireland head coach
Andy Farrell celebrated another win as Ireland head coach (Brian Lawless/PA)

“But obviously it was (given), so we take that.

“The pleasing thing about that is that we weren’t trying to run the clock down to get Tadhg back on the field, we were the team advancing and playing all the rugby.

“Our intent through that period and that little bit of adversity got us going again.”