x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

After two wins in a row, Ireland looking ahead in Six Nations

Ireland have not begun a Six Nations with back-to-back victories since the Grand Slam year of 2009, and a 23-6 win over Wales will have them dreaming in Dublin.

Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy, second from left, is tackled by Wales' Jake Ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. PETER MUHLY / AFP
Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy, second from left, is tackled by Wales' Jake Ball during the Six Nations international rugby union match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday. PETER MUHLY / AFP

Ireland 26 Wales 3

Ireland Tries: Henry, Jackson; Cons: Sexton, Jackson; Pens: Sexton 4.

Wales Pen: Halfpenny.

Man of the match Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)

Ireland ended Welsh dreams of a record third Six Nations title in a row, with a clinical display in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Warren Gatland’s men simply never got close to the hosts, who tactically outmanoeuvred their opponents in red.

Ireland have not begun a Six Nations with back-to-back victories since the Grand Slam year of 2009, and this comprehensive result will have them dreaming in Dublin. “Well it always helps to have the first two games at home and we would be disappointed not to have four points,” said Ireland captain Paul O’Connell. “Still, it puts us in great heart for what will be a tremendous challenge against England at Twickenham in a fortnight.”

Jonny Sexton’s boot dominated the game, but the performances of Peter O’Mahony, O’Connell, Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney will give England lenty to ponder ahead of the clash at Twickenham.

Wales’ Sam Warburton was gracious in defeat: “We were definitely outplayed, full credit to Ireland they were fantastic really. Now it will be a real test of character for us to pull ourselves together for the France match in a fortnight.”

Ireland were already in confident mood following their 28-6 opening win over Scotland, reflected in Joe Schmidt’s decision to make just two changes to the startingXV.

O’Connell, who withdrew on the morning of the Scotland game with a chest infection, returned, while Gordon D’Arcy resumed his record breaking midfield partnership with Brian O’Driscoll, making what is likely to be his penultimate Ireland appearance on home soil.

Ireland were the only team to beat Wales in 11 Six Nations clashes, but the hype surrounding this game was not about Welsh revenge, but an altogether different grudge match, pitting the “coldhearted” British & Irish Lions coach Gatland v “scorned” centre O’Driscoll.

But the real edge to this game was that the winner could automatically become title favourites.

Ireland weathered a strong start by Wales but went into the break 13-0 ahead after Sexton racked up six points with two penalties before the 20th minute.

Chris Henry was bundled over the line for his first international try before Sexton added the extras. Sexton then notched a key penalty after the break to put more than two converted tries between the sides.

Leigh Halfpenny finally got Wales on the scoreboard with a penalty on 56 minutes, but Sexton responded four minutes later to restore the 16-point gap.

Paddy Jackson, on the field just four minutes, did what Wales could not do in 80, and touched down on 78 minutes to rub salt into the Welsh wounds.

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE