Ireland kicked off their Nations Cup campaign with a convincing win against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Friday evening.
Neither side created much, in a drab match, but Ireland managed to get over the line twice with Quinn Roux and James Lowe bagging a try each.
Ireland (16) 32
TRY: Quinn Roux, James Lowe
CON: Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray
PEN: Johnny Sexton (2), Billy Burns (2), Conor Murray (2)
Wales (6) 9
PEN: Leigh Halfpenny (3)
Ulster’s Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale were late withdraws, both posting minor injury concerns in the hours ahead of kick off. Henderson was replaced by squad member Quin Roux with Tadhg Beirne joining the replacements and Stockdale was replace by Andrew Conway who came straight into the squad.
Both teams were up for the game having suffered defeats in the last round of the Six Nations a couple of weeks ago and the first quarter was a bad tempered affair as both sides looked to dominate the contact area. Referee Mathieu Raynal (France) probably should have yellow carded Lowe and Liam Williams to calm things down, after their spat early on. Certainly, the game would have benefitted from a bit more space.
It was a game dominated by the breakdown, the teams coughed up 31 penalties and 22 turnovers between them and it seemed like every contact situation resulted in a penalty to one side or the other. Ireland, however, were on top with a 60:40 edge in territory and possession due to their dominant scrum.
Ireland opened the scoring with Johnny Sexton knocking over a scrum penalty on the 11th minute but Wales hit back with a penalty from Halfpenny six minutes later, in their first real attack.
It was a fleeting visit by the Welsh and Ireland were back in front on the 27th minute after Roux battled over the line following good work by Caelan Doris off the back of a scrum. Sexton added the extras to give Ireland a 10 – 3 lead but the Irish captain left the field shortly after having tweaked his hamstring. Billy Burns came on as replacement.
Halfpenny knocked over his second`penalty, following a rare scrum win for Wales, but Burns stepped up on the 36th minute, to give Ireland a 16 – 6 lead at half time, after Wales were caught offside.
The visitors had a good period at the start of the second half and when Halfpenny knocked over his third penalty on the 49th minute there was a sniff of a chance of Ireland being taken outside of their comfort zone.
Any thought of excitement in this game quickly dissipated as Ireland turned up the pressure and closed out fairly comfortably. Burns grabbed a second penalty before going off for a knock, hopefully not too serious, and Conor Murray came on at outhalf to add two more as the breakdown continued to dominate proceedings.
A scrum in the dying minutes saw Ireland’s two best players link up for their second try. Doris feeding Lowe for the Kiwi to barge over for a deserved try. Murray knocked over the extras to give Ireland a 32 – 9 win.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Jonathan Sexton (C), Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris. Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Keith Earls.
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Alun Wyn Jones (C), Shane Lewis-Hughes, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau. Replacements: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Lloyd Williams, Callum Sheedy, George North.
It wasn’t a bad game but it wasn’t great for it’s Friday Night prime time billing. The lack of space available between two disciplined sides really is starting to kill the game, the penalties at the breakdown being the only thing that kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Lowe tried hard to inject some excitement, with bags of enthusiasm, but it was a game that needed the more unpredictable running of the likes of Ringrose, Stockdale or Larmour against an aging Welsh side.