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Triple Crown within Ireland’s grasp

Ireland 27 Wales 12

By Niall Crozier

There can be no disputing that Ireland wholly deserved Saturday’s victory over Wales.

The winners’ defence was excellent and their finishing clinical. In a word, they were better.

As was the case when last these fierce rivals met, Ireland produced two tries in quick succession and those proved to be decisive.

For Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe at the Millennium Stadium on March 21, 2009 read Keith Earls and Tomas O’Leary at Croke Park on March 13, 2010. Double whammy.

Those tries were scored when Wales were down to 14 men, Lee Byrne having managed to get himself sin-binned for deliberate obstruction.

Indeed, the full-back was lucky not to receive a second card for his truculence in tossing the ball into the crowd during the second half.

Craig Joubert, the South African referee who let him away with that, was strict in his South Hemisphere-influenced interpretation of the law with regard to attempts to pinch ball in the tackle or from resultant rucks and more than once the look of frustration on Irish faces upon finding themselves punished suggested a breakdown in communications.

Ireland conceded 16 penalties to Wales’ 10.

In fairness, however, no-one on the Irish side said anything afterwards to imply that the referee had been anything other than consistent. Instead their reaction was that it is their responsibility to adapt.

Admirably mature and forward thinking with a New Zealand World Cup looming

As was the case at Twickenham a fortnight earlier, Ireland’s victory was achieved off the back of a fine line-out — three Welsh throws taken in the first half — superb defence and the ability to make much out of little.

Just as England had two weeks before, Wales enjoyed by far the greater share of both possession and territory, 62% and 61% respectively.

But just as they had against England, Ireland made a remarkable number of tackles, namely 135 to Wales’ 60.

And although the Welsh served up 110 carries to Ireland’s 60, Declan Kidney’s side made six clean breaks to their guests’ two and so ended up outscoring them by three tries to nil. That’s fuel efficiency.

What exquisite team scores they were, too, with Ireland showing vision and precision in their execution after first reminding us of their appetite for the necessary hard work to make such moments of magic possible.

The first followed a penalty forced as a result of pressure on Shane Williams.

Stephen Ferris looked like he was considering a charge at the red-shirted defence, but instead it was Tomas O’Leary who took a quick one and passed to Brian O’Driscoll who released Keith Earls.

The 22-year-old Munster ace, winning his ninth cap, zipped through on a glorious line for his fifth try.

Ireland’s second try against the 14 men followed five minutes later when O’Connell popped a ball to O’Leary who exploited an ocean of space before bewildering Leigh Halfpenny by virtue of his footwork at full pace.

Earls’ second try and his team’s third was scored on the hour and it knocked the stuffing out of the Welsh who had produced a good start to the second period, only to find themselves thwarted by a defence which yielded nothing and a much-maligned scrum which refused to buckle under pressure, finally raising a short-lived siege by taking a ball against the head virtually on their own line.

All Wales’ points came from the boot of Stephen Jones who landed a brace of penalties either side of half-time.

Had his opposite number, Jonathan Sexton — who kicked two off the tee before the interval, one after it and then dropped a 76th minute goal — been more accurate, Welsh faces would have been as red as their jerseys.

And now another Triple Crown beckons.

Belfast Telegraph

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