Clinical Ireland scored three tries in the opening 20 minutes and cruised to a 34-10 bonus-point victory over Wales to spoil coach Warren Gatland’s welcome home party in the Six Nations opener at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
Ireland bulldozed the Welsh in the first quarter as they dominated the collisions and set-piece, allowing No. 8 Caelan Doris, lock James Ryan and wing James Lowe to cross for scores. Flank Josh van der Flier got the fourth try late on.
Wales, who lost nine of their 12 tests in 2022, were improved in the second half and managed their lone try through fullback Liam Williams, but were largely kept at bay by the efficiency of the Irish defence and will feel they have much work to do in all facets of play.
Ireland host France in their second match on Feb. 11 in a clash between the top two teams in the world rankings, while Wales travel to Scotland hoping more time on the training field with the recently restored Gatland will help them find more cohesion.
“We came out and started really well which was important having not won here for 10 years,” Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan told BBC Sport.
“We probably slipped off a bit in the second half so there’s still plenty to work on, but we’re delighted to get a bonus point and start the Six Nations with a win.
“These are the occasions you want to be part of, in this stadium against a tough side.”
The roof was closed in Cardiff, which allowed for good running conditions, but Wales chose to go to the boot on numerous occasions in the opening period.
Welsh wing Rio Dyer and rookie centre Joe Hawkins looked the best backline attackers on the pitch, but did not see enough of the ball and it was easy for Ireland to match them with almost complete supremacy in the scrum and lineout.
The visitors’ early dominance was rewarded with two tries inside nine minutes that were almost identical in their execution. They battered the Wales try line with forward runners and Doris barged over from close range for the first before Ryan added another.
The home side had rare forays to the Ireland 22 in the first half and from one of those they conceded the third try. Lowe intercepted a Dan Biggar pass and sprinted clear to score unopposed as the visitors built a huge 27-3 lead by halftime.
Williams crossed early in the second period with a well-worked backline move from a lineout but was later sent to the sin-bin after his shoulder struck the head of Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton in a tackle.
Wales had plenty of ball in the second half as they kicked it away less, but Ireland’s organisation on defence kept them at bay and the bonus point was secured when Van der Flier crossed in the final 10 minutes.
“We lacked a lot of discipline and accuracy in the first half and put ourselves under pressure,” Wales captain Ken Owens said.
“We left a couple of scores out there which could have tightened up the game. But I think we showed character in the second half. We were up against the best team in the world and they punished our errors.”