Yet there is only frustration. They will be going to Twickenham a fortnight hence not with the greatest prize in Europe open to them but the prospect of a whitewash. If it is one of the unchanging tenets of rugby union that forwards win matches it is also true that games will be lost nowadays without quality backs and in this department Ireland are still woefully deficient. Their lack of pace and enterprise was brought sharply into focus yesterday against players of genuine class, and the final result reflected Welsh superiority in this crucial area.
Up front, however, it was quite like old times as the Irish forwards, reinvigorated by the discovery of their traditional fire and furious commitment, dominated the tight exchanges. With scant regard to their personal safety they put their heads where most people would think twice about putting their feet. In the first half especially, Victor Costello and Andrew Ward were immense. So too was their scrummage which turned and twisted the Welsh pack into a mangled wreckage.
After their victory at Wembley a fortnight ago, the Welsh made no attempt to conceal their relief. They knew that they would have to improve considerably on that performance. This they did, despite the fact that for long periods they were physically and mentally intimidated by the Irish eight, whose driving at the line-out was a classic demonstration of a pack in complete harmony.
Their first try was a perfect example of this. Following a series of peels down the blind-side - one of them involving all 15 Irishmen in the line-out - they suddenly and cleverly switched tactics. Paddy Johns took the ball at the front and the drive went open leaving Ward free and unmarked on the short side to take Conor McGuinness's scoring pass. Ireland's second try was also from the set-piece, Costello picking up from the base of a controlled wheeling scrummage and driving through Neil Jenkins.
But despite Eric Elwood's kicking and his occasional bursts of activity in the open it was already clear that Ireland could not survive on their pack alone. There had been signs on the few occasions that Jenkins had managed to release his backs of speed and penetration from Leigh Davies and Allan Bateman supplemented by young Kevin Morgan at full-back. Genuine pace in this position is no longer a bonus, but a requirement, and in Morgan Wales had the man for the occasion. Not only did he score a fine try at the start of the second half but his fragile frame survived a clattering tackle by Ward.
The first Welsh try owed everything to speed and accuracy, the latter coming from Jenkins' wickedly placed up-and-under targeted on the hapless Ciaran Clarke and the former supplied by Davies in the follow-up and then by Bateman who scored his third try of this campaign. Morgan's try came from a quickly taken throw and well-timed passes by Davies and Rob Appleyard. Jenkins' third penalty allowed the Welsh a cushion against any possible Irish revival, which was just as well.
Fortified by substitutions in the front row and with Eric Miller replacing the heroic but exhausted Ward, the Irish re-entered the fray with renewed vigour. Their forwards ran themselves into the ground. Rob Henderson's brute strength carried him behind Welsh lines on a number of occasions. But there was little to back him up and in any case the Welsh defence was much improved from the abject display at Twickenham.
Jenkins may not be everybody's idea of a top-flight fly-half but he did little wrong yesterday. It goes without saying that his kicking from the hand and for goal was almost without blemish. But it was his command of every situation and his strategical control which were of even greater value to his country. What is more he finished off his day with a flashing try. Having absorbed a series of Irish attacks Jenkins launched a counter with a shrewdly placed kick for Bateman, who failed to get enough downward pressure for the try. From the scrummage Stuart Davies, who had come on as the replacement for Kingsley Jones, picked up and floated a long pass to Jenkins who raced over unopposed for the try. It was a most impressive second half by Wales and will put them in the best of spirits for France.
Ireland: C Clarke (Terenure College); R Wallace (Saracens), K Maggs (Bristol), R Henderson (Wasps), D Hickie (St Mary's College); E Elwood (Galwegians), C McGuinness (St Mary's College); R Corrigan (Greystones), K Wood (Harlequins, capt), P Wallace (Saracens), P Johns (Saracens), M O'Kelly (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), V Costello (St Mary's College), A Ward (Ballinahinch). Replacements: P Clohessy (Young Munster) for Wallace, 54; R Nesdale (Newcastle) for Wood, 54; E Miller (Leicester) for Ward, 62.
Wales: K Morgan (Pontypridd); W Proctor (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), L Davies (Cardiff), G Thomas (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); A Lewis (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), M Voyle (Llanelli), A Moore (Swansea), R Appleyard (Swansea), C Charvis (Swansea), K Jones (Ebbw Vale). Replacements: J Humphreys (Cardiff) for G Jenkins, 60; S Davies (Swansea) for Jones, 60; L Mustoe (Cardiff) for Young, 71.
Referee: E Morrison (England).
How they stand
P W D L F A Pts
France 3 3 0 0 93 49 6
Wales 3 2 0 1 75 94 4
England 2 1 0 1 77 50 2
Scotland 3 1 0 2 46 86 2
Ireland 3 0 0 3 53 65 0
Remaining fixtures: Today: Scotland v England. 4 April: England v Ireland. 5 April: Wales v France.
*Wales play home matches at WembleyReuse content