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Farrell and Sexton toast 'improved' Ireland performance as Wales win could prove the watermark

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Ireland coach Andy Farrell has a win to savour

Ireland coach Andy Farrell has a win to savour

PA

Ireland coach Andy Farrell has a win to savour

After last week's stuttering start, the Andy Farrell era is up and running.

If winning against Scotland eight days ago was nothing more than expected, the arm-wrestle that game would become saw those questions of a World Cup hangover linger into week two of the Six Nations.

In what always had the feel of a defining game of the championship for the host's new head coach, Ireland delivered their best performance since their 2018 heyday to see of Wales 24-14, riding big performances from their senior men to a bonus-point triumph.

With the rare exception of Wales in 2013, home losses have proved to be a death knell to a side's title hopes in this competition with all in the Aviva Stadium surely all too aware that defeat here, with trips to London and Paris looming, could see discontent rumble from winter into spring and beyond.

Instead, thanks to a pair of tries in each half, Ireland will head to Twickenham two weeks from today with a Triple Crown on the line.

The ten-point win, that saw Wales score a converted try with what was the last play of the game, wasn't straight-forward though, far from it.

Twice after Ireland scored last year's Grand Slam champions would enjoy a considerable purple patch, rallying quickly after Jordan Larmour's opener with a great score through Tomos Williams and then again in the moments following Josh Van der Flier making it a two-score game just after the break.

Crucially in the second instance Ireland held firm. How different a game it could have been if Hadleigh Parkes had kept a fingernail in contact with the ball when stretching across the whitewash to make it a five-point game or Dave Kilcoyne hadn't been able to draw a key scrum penalty to relieve the pressure. On such moments are games in this championship won on lost.

It wasn't quite as dramatic as the Jacob Stockdale intercept sucker-punch two years ago, but with Wales having nothing to show for a near ten-minute spell camped in the shadow of the Irish posts, still trailing by 12 points with a quarter to go, the game felt similarly up. Andrew Conway finishing off a fine personal outing with the fourth-try and a bonus-point would prove the cherry on top.

"It was an improved performance," said Farrell. "The start was the complete reverse (of against Scotland). I though we were passive at the start last week and Scotland got a foothold. This week we did that.

"The baseline was to make sure we were physical for the 80 minutes. There were heroic moments last week but we got that 100% across the 80 (here).

"We managed it superbly in the second-half because I've no doubt they were pleased with the score at half-time.

"How we managed that second-half was a real credit and to score that bonus-point was really pleasing."

Where Ireland looked disjointed a week ago, there were more signs of the shape and gameplan Farrell is trying to implement. Naturally still a work in progress as Farrell and his new attack coach Mike Catt try to evolve the Joe Schmidt blueprint, the four scores here offered encouragement for the work done on the paddock so far.

Captain Johnny Sexton admitted it was the most he has enjoyed an Ireland performance for some time.

"Well, it wouldn't be hard after last year," he laughed. "It was brilliant. It had a bit of everything, the stuff we didn't put out there against Scotland.

"Some of our shape was really good that we've been working on. Last week we didn't get the platform but (against Wales) we had the lineout that we could launch off.

"Some of Catty and Faz's plays worked a treat and really got us across the advantage line.

"And we won. That's the most important thing but obviously our biggest challenges ahead."

While CJ Stander, again named official man of the match, was carded late on, referee Romain Poite had issued a warning to Sexton during that key spell deep in their own '22' with Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones admitting he felt his side were close to forcing a yellow as well as the score that would have really upped the ante.

"We had two or three penalties on the bounce but if we'd kicked them we still would have been behind," said Jones. "It was a gamble.

"We felt the penalties were building, building.

"I'm not going to blame Romain and say we should have got the card earlier but we felt from a discipline point of view we were putting the pressure on them."

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac, though, had no complaints with the key call that ruled out Parkes' score for a knock-on in the grounding.

"It's a big decision but it was the right decision, he didn't have control," admitted the former Scarlets man who has taken over from Warren Gatland. "With 20 minutes to go, it'd have been game on I think but we didn't get the points."

Instead, it's Ireland who march on unbeaten, certainly with more of a spring in their step than this time a week ago.

With those testing away trips to come, this may well prove to be the high watermark for Ireland in the championship. Much, much more may also lie in store. Either way, the new head coach has a win to savour.

IRELAND: J Larmour; A Conway, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Herring, T Furlong; I Henderson, J Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: K Earls for Henshaw, 44; D Kilcoyne for Healy, 50; R Kelleher for Herring, 66; A Porter for Furlong, 66; D Toner for Henderson, 66; R Byrne for Sexton, 71; M Deegan for O'Mahony, 71; J Cooney for Murray, 72.

Wales: L Halfpenny; G North, N Tompkins, H Parkes, J Adams; D Biggar, T Williams; W Jones, K Owens, D Lewis; J Ball, AW Jones (C); A Wainwright, J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Replacements: J McNicholl for Adams, 25; J Evans for Biggar, 44; G Davies, for T Williams, 48; R Moriarty for Wainwright, 48; R Carre for W Jones, 63; L Brown for Lewis, 66; A Beard for J Ball, 71; R Elias for Owens, 73.

Referee: R Poite

Man of the Match: CJ Stander

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