• Rampant Ireland humble Wales

    A masterclass by Jonathan Sexton and the Ireland pack set up an emphatic 26-3 victory over Wales in Dublin.

    The pre-tournament favourites continue to buckle under the weight of expectation. Wales were poor in their opening fixture against Italy last week, and were completely outplayed in the second game against Ireland on Saturday.

    They're no longer in the running for the Grand Slam, and will need to turn things around quickly if they're to stay in the race for the Six Nations title.

    The Ireland forwards were dominant at the breakdown and collisions, stifling the Welsh attack and effecting a number of momentum-killling turnovers. The hosts' set piece was also in top form, and it was a drive from the lineout that led to Chris Henry's try in the 33rd minute. Clearly, former Sharks coach John Plumtree is making a difference in his new role as Ireland forwards coach.

    The Ireland forwards may have set the platform, but it was the pinpoint tactical kicking of Sexton that put the Emerald Greens into optimum scoring positions.

    Wales were rattled by Ireland's garryowen tactics, with Sexton's accuracy complemented by a determined kick-chase. Fullback Rob Kearney got the better of his opposite number, Leigh Halfpenny, when the two met in the air, a play that allowed Ireland to regain possession and continue that drive that would culminate in Henry's try.

    Sexton varied his play well, switching between the kick-chase strategy and the probe for the corner. It was a game plan that was perfectly executed, and by half-time Ireland had taken a commanding 13-0 lead.

    Wales scored their first and only points in the 56th minute when Halfpenny slotted a penalty goal. Ireland maintained their intensity levels throughout the second half, and despite the big lead, Sexton continued to kick for territory.

    Another big lineout drive in the dying moments had the Welsh defence backpedalling, and replacement flyhalf Paddy Jackson slipped through for a simple try.

    Ireland are now in prime position, having won their first two games. Their recent victory was more emphatic than the first, not only because of the quality of opposition, but because of the fantastic all-round performance.

    Ireland – Tries: Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson. Conversions: Jonathan Sexton, Jackson. Penalties: Sexton (4).
    Wales –  Penalty: Leigh Halfpenny.

    Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
    Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.

    Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
    Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.

    Photo: Peter Muhly/AFP Photo

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    Jon Cardinelli