Wales too strong for Ireland in front of record home crowd in Six Nations opener

Alex Callender and Courtney Keight celebrate Wales' opening day victory in the TikTok Women's Six Nations

By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat

Wales opened their 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign with a comfortable 31-5 victory over Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park.

The pack put the hosts on the front foot early on and they refused to let up from there, running in five tries in the Championship curtain-raiser.

Alex Callender started the party after just three minutes and scores followed from Keira Bevan, replacement Sioned Harries and captain Hannah Jones to leave Wales 26-0 up at the break.

Sisilia Tuipulotu added a fifth try shortly after half time and, though Nichola Fryday crossed for the visitors, the day firmly belonged to Wales, who eclipsed their highest ever attendance for a fixture in the Women's Championship.

Wales came flying out the traps with Callender bundling her way over inside three minutes.

It looked as though the chance had gone after a knock on by Lisa Neumann but Wales approached Ireland’s scrum as if it were their own, forcing a penalty after a seismic shove.

Their first lineout was just as effective, with a simple catch and drive culminating in flanker Callender’s maiden score in the Championship.

Wales' second, which arrived on 12 minutes, was a little more opportunistic. Scrum-half Bevan pounced on a loose ball just shy of the Irish line to dive over a pile of strewn bodies under the posts to cap a dream start for the hosts.

Ioan Cunningham's side were firmly on top by this stage, and even managed to force an Irish maul back some 10 metres.

A couple of needless penalties offered Ireland some respite, but the reprieve was only brief.

One of Wales’ most experienced campaigners, back row Harries may have felt aggrieved to have not been starting this fixture but was thrust into action early on when Gwen Crabb was forced off through injury.

She made her presence felt soon after, finishing off another lineout drive for Wales’ third score before Bevan added her second conversion of the afternoon to stretch the lead to 19-0.

In a first half that could not have gone any better for Wales, it was perhaps fitting that captain Jones brought up the bonus point, dotting down after a brilliant break from centre partner Kerin Lake.

That try put Wales 26-0 ahead at the interval and it was nothing less than they deserved.

Into the second half and Tuipulotu thought she had added a fifth within the first two minutes of the restart but the score was chalked off for a knock on, much to the displeasure of a raucous Arms Park crowd.

But things swiftly went from bad to worse for Ireland, with replacement hooker Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird shown a yellow card for playing the No.9.

Wales did not need numbers wide to score their first of the second period, instead bulldozing their way through up front with Tuipulotu touching down minutes after having been denied.

A penalty against Wales for obstruction inside their own half offered Ireland some rare time on the ball but they struggled to find a way through a stubborn defence.

That was until the final quarter of the game, when captain Fryday powered her way over for a consolation score.

That was to be it as far as the scoring was concerned, with Wales holding out to secure an opening day win over their Celtic cousins for the second successive year.