Ireland start their Six Nations in style with a dominant win over Wales

Andy Farrell’s side emphasise their title credentals with a bonus-point victory

Ireland 29 Wales 7

Ireland didn't just launch their 2022 Six Nations with a win, they threw down something of a marker for the tournament by putting the Red Dragons to the sword.

Aside from not being more ruthless, the main blemish was failing to keep the champions scoreless, due to the concession of a soft try at the end, and in truth the final scoreline flattered Wales.

Ireland were superior in every department, the scrum winning penalties, their big guns (and that pretty much means everyone from Andrew Porter to Jack Conan in this powerful pack) bossing the collisions and the skillset and attacking shape and ambition was vastly superior.


In truth, the review will highlight how they let Wales escape relatively lightly as Ireland failed to fully translate their supremacy into more scores.

Still, the bonus point and the win - both of which looked pretty cut and dried from virtually the off - were secured just past the hour mark, setting Ireland up nicely for a tilt at the French in Paris next Saturday.

Andy Farrell was fully vindicated in his selection, not least in debutant Connacht left-winger Mick Hansen. Farrell likes his wingers to have plenty of involvements, and Hansen certainly did that, popping up everywhere and making a big contribution to the first and fourth tries.

Ireland picked up where they left off in the autumn with the variety and tempo of their attacking game. Either carrying hard into contact off flat balls, with Bundee Aki often leading the charge, or pulling the ball back, Johnny Sexton and the carriers always had options when holding their depth, and the spacing and animation off the ball had the Welsh defence guessing.

This was particularly so in the first quarter as Ireland sprung out of the blocks, often froze defenders on the spot, and worked the ball to the edge, where Hansen adapted to this Test lark as seamlessly as he has done with Connacht.

However, on a blustery and sometimes wet afternoon, Ireland failed to convert this good work into a bigger lead, occasionally forcing the pass, while Sexton missed a couple of three-pointers before making it 10-0.

Wales also grew into the game too, and their trademark resilience was typified by a huge defensive display by Nick Tompkins, who along with the comparatively out of place Josh Adams had their hands full with Aki and Garry Ringrose.

Hansen hogged the cameras in the build-up and again in the early stages. He reacted sharply to a deflection off a grubber by Sexton inside the Irish 10-metre line and escaped from Louis Rees-Zammit up the left touchline, chipping Liam Williams to earn an attacking lineout.

From Beirne’s take and maul set-up, Josh van der Flier peeled infield and linked with a charging Caelan Doris. The immense Tadhg Furlong carried hard over the gain line from the recycle and off the next ruck Beirne pulled the ball back for Sexton to link with Hansen, who floated a beauty for Aki to score in the corner. A finish with a Connacht flourish.

Sexton converted superbly from the touchline but then failed to reward Ireland’s attacking play, and Andrew Porter’s strength in the jackal, by missing a penalty from just outside the 22 to audible gasps. Sexton then saw a 40-metre effort blown off course after a clever launch play released Ringrose.

Wales were soon stressed again by another bright attack featuring a beautifully disguised pass by Furlong - abnormal for a prop but not for the Wexfordman- put Sexton through a gap to link with Andrew Conway. A penalty for offside followed and Sexton made it 10-0.

Ireland’s failure to deal with a restart and Ronan Kelleher’s throw just eluding Jack Conan’s fingertips gave Wales their first foray but a double choke tackle by Beirne and Sexton on Ryan Elias relieved the pressure temporarily.

They needed another strong defensive set after Gibson-Park’s poor pass to Aki, Hansen stopping Nick Tompkins on one wing and subsequently covered across to tackle Johnny McNicholl, before another choke tackle by Beirne. Ireland’s line speed and a sequence of big tackles ended with Kelleher’s hit on Louis Rees-Zammit forcing a forward pass.

Back came Ireland, working Hansen over the gain line off another launch play, and there was a sweet pass by Hugo Keenan for van der Flier to link with Hansen. Somehow Jaco Peyper allowed three Welsh players to go off their feet at a ruck before Sexton’s offload was defected away from Aki by McNicholl.

Ireland came knocking through multiple phases again, but the move and the half ended anti-climactically as the rain arrived when Gibson-Park’s skip pass floated over Hansen into touch.

A 10-point lead was a scant return for their supremacy. Ireland made over twice as many metres, 543, than Wales from their 71 carries and forced the Welsh into making almost twice as many tackles. Their discipline was such that the penalty count was 5-0.

That continued into the second half as well, Adams pushing up too soon to close down Aki before Wales conceded another penalty in pulling down Ireland’s maul. Playing with house money after another drive was hauled down, Sexton first linked neatly up the middle with Ringrose and then floated a long pass to Conway. He had to check to gather, but still beat Adams on the outside to just about reach the line.

Sexton landed the touchline conversion but soon after, with Wales having an advantage, Adams chased a chip by Biggar and shoulder charged Sexton just under his chin without playing the ball.

Adams was binned, and though he clearly thought otherwise, actually couldn’t complain. Another launch play saw Hansen come around off his wing and find Conway before van der Flier pierced the stretched defence through the middle from Beirne’s tip-on.

Cue more pounding, and hard carries by James Ryan and Beirne, Gibson-Park floated a long pass to the unmarked Conway for a simpler finish. Sexton again landed the touchline conversion.

Perhaps with an eye on Paris next week, Finlay Bealham and Peter O’Mahony were introduced for Furlong and Conan, and immediately the pair conceded a combined penalty at a Welsh maul, the first against Ireland.

Soon Sexton arrowed a scrum penalty from halfway into the corner only for obstruction to deny van der Flier a try. It was but a stay of execution for the Welsh, Porter ripping a turnover, Kelleher feeding Sexton off the deck and Hansen, reading the possibilities before they happened, hared in off his wing to link with Aki. His pass found Ringrose in space with Conway outside, the centre accelerating and straightening through Liam Williams’ tackle to score.

Job done and the bonus point secured, the rest of the bench was emptied and the Mexican waves began. Ireland would have liked to complete the ‘0’ part of the equation but in an otherwise superb display Beirne was left banging the ground in frustration after his offload off the deck was intercepted by Taine Basham for a soft seven-pointer.

Nor could they convert clean breaks by Conor Murray and Beirne into a fifth try as Wales, out on their feet and well beaten, clung on gamely.

Scoring sequence: 3 mins Aki try, Sexton con 7-0; 21 mins Sexton pen 10-0; (half-time 10-0; 44 mins Conway try, Sexton con 17-0; 51 mins Conway try, Sexton con 24-0; 61 mins Ringrose try 29-0; 75 mins Basham try, Sheedy con 29-7.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD), Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen), Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD), Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians), Mack Hansen (Connacht); Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary's College, capt), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD), Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf), Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne), James Ryan (Leinster/UCD), Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary's College), Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD), Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere). Replacements: Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) for Furlong (53 mins), Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) for Furlong, Peter O'Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) for Conan (both 53 mins), Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) for Kelleher, James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) for Conway (both 62 mins), Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) for Sexton (64 mins), Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) for Porter, Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) (both 66 mins), Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) for Gibson-Park (69 mins).

Wales: Liam Williams (Scarlets); Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets), Josh Adams (Cardiff), Nick Tompkins (Saracens), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester); Dan Biggar (Northampton, capt), Tomos Williams (Cardiff); Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Ryan Elias (Scarlets), Tomas Francis (Ospreys), Will Rowlands (Dragons), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff), Taine Basham (Dragons), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons). Replacements: Dewi Lake (Ospreys) for Elias, Gareth Thomas (Ospreys) for Jones Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby) for Francis (all 53 mins), Ross Moriarty (Dragons) for Jenkins (all 53 mins), Gareth Davies (Scarlets) for T Williams (57 mins), Callum Sheedy (Bristol Bears) for Biggar (71 mins), Owen Watkin (Ospreys) for Carter (63 mins), Ben Carter (Dragons) for Rowlands (74 mins). Sinbinned - Adams (49-59 mins).

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times