Ireland blasted the Six Nations Championship wide open yesterday with a comprehensive annihilation of Wales, who were in their first match under Mike Ruddock's successor, Scott Johnson. Any of five teams - Italy are the exception - can now win the title.
The Irish victory was marred by the loss of their prop Marcus Horan, who was taken to hospital after being carried from the field with his neck in a brace. However, he is expected to be fit to face Scotland a week on Saturday.
Whether it was due to a reaction to their trials of the past fortnight, the loss for the rest of the season of their captain Gareth Thomas or just plain ineptitude, there was no doubt about it; Wales were blown off the park.
The rubble littering O'Connell Street after Saturday's riots was as nothing to the red-shirted human wreckage scattered on the Lansdowne Road turf after this disappointingly one-sided and, in the end, rather dull match.
Wales had been jolted by the loss of their outside-half Stephen Jones with a dead leg midway through the first half. Jones's experience is invaluable in matches such as this, where conditions dictate events as much as anything, and he was sorely missed. His replacement was Gavin Henson, back after suspension and sporting white boots with yellow heels and a different hairstyle. Gone were the spikes, now replaced by a slicked back look. He still wore the fake tan, and an impassive expression as he ran on to wolf whistles, cat calls, jeers and boos.
The expected fire and brimstone start from Wales did not materialise. In part that could be put down to the gusting north-easterly, which snuffed out a couple of Jones's early goal-kicks, with the ball hanging for an age before dropping like a stone short of its target. As a result, both sides tried to use the ball through their hands rather than relying on the boot.
One of those kicks by Jones was an attempted conversion after Wales' inside centre Matthew Watkins chipped over the advancing Irish defence. Ireland's rookie left wing Andrew Trimble failed to read the bounce and the ball deflected off his knee before popping up into the path of the Wales right wing Mark Jones, who plunged over the line for his seventh international try, and his first against Ireland, in the eighth minute.
Ronan O'Gara kicked his first penalty after 15 minutes, but it did not ignite the match or the Irish. Not until the departure of the hapless Stephen Jones did things begin to heat up.
The Irish forwards began some concerted drives, forcing the Welsh on to the back foot. The nearer they drew to the line the more unstoppable they looked - their driving maul throughout the match was immense - and eventually Denis Leamy was shoved over. But after consultation with the television match official (one of three such consultations which resulted in one try) the South African referee Jonathan Kaplan disallowed the score, saying the ball had been held up. Three Welshmen had managed that - Watkins, Henson and the hooker, Rhys Thomas.
Half a minute later a similar bit of grunt and grind brought a reward, Leamy's back-row colleague David Wallace getting the final touch. O'Gara could not add the conversion, but he did extend the lead with a second penalty shortly before the end of the first half.
At which point Kaplan called the two captains, Michael Owen of Wales and Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland, to him to warn them about the unacceptable number of infringements at the breakdown. There were hands everywhere, but although that seemed to continue in the second half no one was singled out for a yellow card until Leamy departed for the use of his boot late on.
The potency of the home threequarters was evident early in the second half when Wales were trailing by six points. Henson failed to clear the ball and shortly afterwards, from a scrum, the ball was whipped out to O'Driscoll, who flipped it on to his gigantic right wing, Shane Horgan.
He burst right, drawing Dafydd James and the full-back Lee Byrne across, before stepping smartly inside the pair and cutting over for the try. O'Gara added the conversion and two more penalties before his scrum-half, Peter Stringer, burrowed over for a late try. The match was over for Wales long before that.
Nothing seemed to go right for them. They were inflicted with awkward bounces, poor passing and insecure footing. Their discipline cost them as well, in terms of points and position. As for Johnson's position, this poor performance leaves him with a mountain of work to do if anything is to be salvaged from this unhappy season.
Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, (all Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes (all Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Wallace, D Leamy (both Munster). Replacements: R Best (Ulster) for Flannery, 80; S Best (Ulster) for Horan, 69; M O'Driscoll (Munster) for Easterby, 79; J O'Connor (Wasps) for Wallace, 77.
Wales: L Byrne; M Jones (both Llanelli Scarlets), H Luscombe (Newport-Gwent Dragons), M Watkins, D James (both Scarlets); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), D Peel (Scarlets); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Dragons), R Sidoli (Blues), C Charvis (Newcastle), M Williams (Blues), M Owen (Dragons, capt). Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester) for Thomas, 61; G Jenkins (Blues) for D Jones, 45; G Delve (Bath) for Charvis, 56; G Henson (Ospreys) for S Jones, 20.
Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).
Lansdowne Road statistics
* TOP CARRIERS
Lee Byrne 13
Dwayne Peel 13
Matthew Watkins 11
Mark Jones 9
Michael Owen 9
* TOP TACKLERS
Martyn Williams 12
Brian O'Driscoll 11
Malcolm O'Kelly 11
Denis Leamy 10
Ronan O'Gara 10
* MOST MISSED TACKLES
Martyn Williams 3
Ronan O'Gara 3
Dafydd James 2
Hal Luscombe 2
Peter Stringer 2
* MOST OFFLOADS
Brian O'Driscoll 4
Gareth Delve 2
Mark Jones 2
Matthew Watkins 2
Lee Byrne 1
* MOST ERRORS
Gavin Henson 5
Lee Byrne 4
Shane Horgan 3
Ronan O'Gara 3
Michael Owen 3Reuse content