Wales 10 – 34 Ireland: Dominant Ireland secure bonus point win beating sorry Wales in Six Nations opener
Wales start to their 2023 Six Nations campaign ended in disappointment with defeat against tournament favourites Ireland 34-10 at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium this afternoon.
Wales (3) 10
Tries: Liam Williams Cons: Biggar Pens: Biggar
Ireland (27) 34
Tries: Doris, Ryan, Lowe, Van der Flier Cons: Sexton(3),Byrne Pens: Sexton (2)
First half tried from Caelan Dories, James Ryan and James Lowe had put the Irish into a commanding lead at the break as the Welsh were error driven and slow out of the blocks.
A much-improved performance after the break saw Liam Williams reduce the arrears for the home side as Ireland took their foot off the gas.
The damage though had been done long before a late Van der Flier score settled the match, giving the Irish a bonus point, after Williams had been sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Ireland captain Johnny Sexton.
A loss in coach Warren Gatland’s first game in charge of his second spell a poor start to life after the Wayne Pivac era with many questions likely to be pointed the reasoning behind Wales’ slow start.
With the World Cup in France just over six months away, Gatland’s side had looked to produce a performance to build momentum into this year’s campaign. Despite defeat, at times the Kiwi could take heart from the resilience shown in the second half, but many problems still remain.
The buildup to the match had shown a resolute Gatland name a side starting XV with vast experience with sprinklings of youth and exuberance. Evergreen Osprey’s veteran Alun Wyn Jones amongst a side which had seven starters with 90 caps or more.
There was a welcome return to the side for Toulon’s Dan Bigger at fly-half after being kept out of large parts of the 2022 calendar with a knee injury.
However, preparations were knocked on Thursday with the loss of full-back Leigh Halfpenny to a back problem, replaced with Cardiff’s Liam Williams, himself another sidelined for large parts of the previous captain.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell was also not without his own problems in selection with the late withdrawal of Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park with a hamstring issue. The New Zealand born 30-year-old a key figure of the Irish high tempo approach.
Farrell’s side came into the clash having won five out of the six last meetings against their Welsh counterparts, whilst only losing once in their last Six Nations outings. Their wins were impressive and by no less than 17-point margins, with four or more tries scored in each of their fixtures, an ominous prospect for the Welsh.
Wales though had been somewhat of a bogey side in recent times for the Irish at Cardiff with Farrell’s side without a win in Cardiff since a 30-22 triumph in 2013.
The Welsh, having suffered the embarrassment of losing on home soil to both minnow’s Georgia in the Autumn Internationals and Six Nations strugglers Italy in the last year knew that it would be important to start well.
Last season’s tournament had overseen the Welsh both score the fewest and concede the most of any side in the first 20 minutes, but old habits were to come to the forefront once more.
In front of a roaring crowd, the Irish were the first to put pressure onto the Welsh defense. Tomos Williams missed kick into touch punished by Leinster wing James Lowe earning the Irish territory within the Welsh 22 metre line.
The next phase seeing the Irish open the scoring with veteran captain Johny Sexton setting up number eight Caelan Doris to drive over the Welsh try line.
Indiscipline led to the Welsh falling further behind within the first ten minutes. A quick tap and go resulting in Leinster lock James Ryan powering over after Ireland had played advantage. Sexton, cool as ever adding the extra’s to increase their early advantage.
Wales responded well with Dan Biggar’s penalty putting Gatland’s side on the scoreboard. It could though have been so much different for the Welsh had wing Rio Dyer won a foot race with full back Hugo Keenan after Gareth Thomas had dislodged the ball in the tackle.
Ireland seemed to have the dominant edge in the midfield, regularly winning the scrummage battle. Sexton happy to pick up the pieces from Welsh indiscipline to kick his side further in front.
Wales though were their own worst enemy at times with their uniforced error count. Whilst on the attack, sloppiness from Biggar in possession misplacing a pass allowing James Lowe to sprint from his own half to score Ireland’s third try. A third and what would be decisive try for the Irish.
Wales would keep fighting and nearly responded with a score of their own. Centre Joe Hawkins on his Wales debut, jinking through the Irish defense, before a last-ditch tackle by back Keenan denying the Ospreys man with Ireland swarming over the resulting breakdown to close out the opportunity.
The speed of recovery a reoccurring difference between the two sides in the opening half as Wales were second best, out muscled by their opponents.
Wales flew out of the traps after the break, just fifteen seconds after the restart, scoring their first try of the afternoon. Liam Williams the beneficiary from quick hands from a short line out, after offensive decision making from Biggar had seen Wales refuse a penalty and kick for the corner.
Dyer then causing problems on the left, drifted into the Irish final third as the Welsh improved showing character, but was unable to find a way through as chances started to go begging.
Wales’ momentum was broken as the game came into its final third losing Liam Williams to the sin bin for a high tackle on Irish captain Sexton, but their heart and desire would push for a close finish, with the 14 men looking to reduce their arrears.
Time, however, was running out. The Irish, poor in the second period searched for a fourth and decisive try, probed the Welsh rearguard and made the most of their extra man to eventually see Van der Flier cross between the posts after several phases of play.
It was harsh on Wales’ second half performance which had been much improved, Gatland’s side though would rue their poor first period, convincingly beaten in the end. Ireland clinical in conversion of their chances, early pace setters in the table.
For Wales and Gatland it will be a quick turnaround onward to their next fixture at Murrayfield against Scotland next week looking for a swift response.
15 L Williams, 14 Adams, 13 North, 12 Hawkins, 11 Dyer (Cuthbert 68), 10 Biggar (O Williams 67), 9 T Williams (Webb 64), 1 G Thomas (Carre 54), 2 Owens (Captain) (Baldwin 60), 3 Francis (Lewis 41), 4 Beard, 5 Wyn Jones (Jenkins 60), 6 J Morgan, 7 Tipuric (Reffell 54), 8 Faletau.
15 Keenan, 14 Hansen, 13 Ringrose, 12 McCloskey (Aki 61), 11 Lowe, 10 Sexton (Byrne 68), 9 Murray (Casey 64), 1 Porter, 2 Sheehan, Bealham (O’Toole 61), 4 Beirne (Henderson 54), 5 Ryan, 6 O’Mahony (Conan 61), 7 Van der Flier, 8 Doris.
(Lead image: Planet Rugby)
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