Six Nations 2020: Ireland grind down Wales to earn bonus-point victory

Ireland 24-14 Wales: It was fast, frenetic and brutal at the Aviva Stadium, but ultimately Wales made too many mistakes to come out on top

Alex Bywater
Aviva Stadium
Saturday 08 February 2020 17:17
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Ireland appeal moments before Josh van der Flier's try is awarded
Ireland appeal moments before Josh van der Flier's try is awarded

This was the first real challenge of Wayne Pivac’s Wales era and it was one they failed as Ireland made it two wins from two at the start of the Six Nations.

On the day the Irish went to the polls to vote on their next leader it was the men in green who ensured it was Pivac who was left to contemplate his first defeat since succeeding Warren Gatland.

It was fast, frenetic and brutal at the Aviva Stadium, but ultimately Wales made too many mistakes to come out on top as Ireland scored through Jordan Larmour, Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier and Andrew Conway for a bonus-point win.

Pivac will be frustrated because this was a game there for the taking. The predicted Storm Ciara didn’t quite arrive for kick-off, but a blustery wind was prevalent which made for tricky conditions as Ireland edged the first period thanks to Larmour and Furlong.

Tomos Williams came up with Wales’ first-half effort, but it was Van der Flier who came up with the game’s crucial score. Pivac’s men failed to turn pressure into points and their line-out wobbled as the 2019 Grand Slam champions couldn’t come from behind.

This was Wales’ first Six Nations defeat since 2017 in Dublin as Ireland’s power game – led by man of the match CJ Stander – proved the difference despite Justin Tipuric’s late consolation.

There was a late change on the Wales bench with Owen Williams pulling up lame with a tight hamstring in the warm-up. It left Jarrod Evans to step in as a huge pre-match roar greeted Johnny Sexton’s kick-off and it was the Irish fly-half’s team who started positively.

Wales props Dillon Lewis and Wyn Jones won penalties to withstand Irish pressure, but it was the men in green who dominated the ball. Wales’ defence held firm impressively.

Both side’s rearguards stood out. Ireland kept turning over possession in attack, Sexton turning down three points in favour of the corner and then seeing Taulupe Faletau spoil the party.

Finally, Ireland deservedly broke through. Larmour still had plenty to do when he received possession, but he bumped off poor tackle attempts from Nick Tompkins and Williams to score. Sexton’s conversion attempt went all wrong.

Ireland were getting a lot of joy in the outside centre channel with Tompkins struggling on his first Test start and George North defending too narrowly on the right wing.

Wales also lost their hat-trick hero against Italy Josh Adams to a leg injury, but it didn’t stop them hitting back to take the lead. Dan Biggar exchanged passes with his captain Alun Wyn Jones and had half-back partner Williams steaming up inside him to score.

Biggar converted after a scuffle with Sexton.

Williams, soon after scoring, then blotted his copybook in costly fashion.

Jonny Sexton is tackled in midfield

Alun Wyn Jones won line-out ball and popped the ball down to his scrum-half who inexplicably dropped the ball on his own line. From the resulting scrum Furlong crashed over and Sexton improved the effort. It meant Ireland led 12-7 at the break with Johnny McNicholl on the field for Adams.

A pre-interval dust-up between British & Irish Lions Alun Wyn Jones and Peter O’Mahony summed up the battle and Ireland kept Wales waiting for the resumption.

Biggar and Robbie Henshaw collided when the action got going again and after both initially carried on, they then left the field for head injury assessments.

Evans replaced Biggar, but even with the wind now slightly in their favour, Wales’ line-out wobbles continued and another Ken Owens set-piece went AWOL.

It gave Ireland another platform in the Welsh 22 from which they rumbled over. Romain Poite consulted his TMO Glenn Newman and while there didn’t appear to be conducive proof of grounding, the try was given to Van der Flier. Sexton nailed the kick from out wide.

Wales then had to chase the game. Ross Moriarty and Gareth Davies appeared from the bench with Biggar and Henshaw permanently off the field. Newman was then at the centre of more drama.

Hadleigh Parkes crashed over from close range as Wales searched for a comeback, but he failed to ground the ball and the try – correctly – was ruled out by Newman.

Still, it was now all Wales as they battered away at the Irish line. Their pressure went unrewarded as on their own put in on the 64 minute mark, they were penalised for collapsing the scrum.

It was the game’s crucial moment and Furlong and the rest of the Irish front row knew it too as they celebrated like they had won the game.

Sexton left the field late on with a head injury, but by that stage the work had been done and there was still time for Conway to make it a dream Irish afternoon as he crossed for a fourth try late on.

Tipuric scored with the game’s final play, but it is Ireland who remain on course for a Grand Slam in 2020 and thoroughly deserved to win this one.

For Wales and Pivac, it’s back to the drawing board with questions to answer.

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