Earls too fast for beached Wales
Ireland 27 Wales 12: No comeback this time as another yellow card leaves Gatland's men high and dry in Dublin
Sunday 14 March 2010
This time there was no thrilling, edge-of-the-seat second-half comeback, no Red resurrection to give off the illusion of dominance. Wales went behind, stayed behind and went further behind and Ireland could duly trot in and turn their attention to Scotland. This was merely the result they expected on Brian O'Driscoll's 100th Ireland cap.
A fifth Triple Crown in seven years awaits Declan Kidney's men, while Wales could even be left with the wooden spoon. Having been compared to a "warthog" by an Irish newspaper, Warren Gatland looked pig sick. "We were very disappointed with our performance," said the coach, after his fourth defeat in five Tests. "We had more territory and possession but you have to hand it to Ireland. They were very clinical."
He was right. The statistic sheet favoured Wales, the scoreboard was massively in support of Ireland. The Irish were way more professional – despite unforced errors of their own – and in Tomas O'Leary and Keith Earls they have two backs at the top of their form. The latter scored two tries after switching from wing to centre following Gordon D'Arcy's departure. Wales were in cheap-point-shedding mood and Earls was the man to capitalise.
"The yellow card was very costly," said Gatland. "The most upsetting thing about it is we haven't learned the lesson of what happened in Twickenham." Alun Wyn Jones was the culprit at HQ; it was Lee Byrne here. The full-back saw Craig Joubert's yellow card in the 25th minute after stupidly slapping down the ball as Ireland moved it out of a ruck. Wales were in their opponent's 22 at the time. Very soon they were pinned back. They conceded 10 points while Byrne was off and if Jonathan Sexton's boot had not been wayward – the boy can definitely play, but he cannot kick – it would have been 14.
Earls scored his first try in the 27th minute after a cross-field move which came from an Irish penalty. Joubert pinged Shane Williams for not gripping on to Tommy Bowe after the tackle. Considering Bowe was isolated and Williams had two other defenders in attendance, it seemed harsh. No matter, Earls went over and after Sexton had missed a ridiculously easy conversion, the green wave came again in what Martyn Williams, the Wales captain, called "a crazy five minutes". Paul O'Connell popped out of a rolling maul, fed O'Leary on the 22 and the scrum-half beat Leigh Halfpenny to the corner flag.
At the break, Wales were 10 points behind and were probably relieved to be so close. Ireland could have easily scored again in the dying seconds of the half, but the ball bounced badly for Rob Kearney as he tried to kick it over the line. Wales had had chances of their own, just as they would in the second half, but Ireland's defence held and like Gatland said, when it came to their scoring chances – Sexton's kicks notwithstanding – they were clinical.
The visitors were clearly missing key personnel and the fightback never came. Ireland won a scrum against the head under their own posts in the 48th minute and that was that.
"It was a huge, huge moment," said Kidney. Its importance was amplified when Byrne compounded his earlier error with another moment of silliness, when throwing the ball over the hoardings after going into touch, to hand over another three points. The Wales defence were stretched beyond breaking point when Earls finished off a flowing move on the hour.
All Wales could reply with was a few more Stephen Jones penalties. By the end Sexton was relaxed enough to nail a drop-goal. It couldn't end soon enough for Wales, and judging by Gatland's expression, he cannot wait for this tournament to finish.
Ireland G Murphy; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy (R Kearney, 23), K Earls (R O'Gara, 77); J Sexton, T O'Leary (E Reddan, 78); C Healy, R Best, J Hayes (T Buckley, 73), D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (L Cullen, 78), S Ferris (S Jennings, 78), J Heaslip, D Wallace.
Wales L Byrne (A Bishop, 63); L Halfpenny, J Hook, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, R Rees (D Peel, 61); P James (R Gill, 77), M Rees (H Bennett, 56), A Jones, B Davies (I Gough, 59), L Charteris, J Thomas, G Delve, M Williams (capt; S Warburton, 66).
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).
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