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Reaction: Ireland put through the wringer and come out clean

Declan Kidney’s side got the Six Nations off to a perfect start in Cardiff.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

HOW DO WE start analysing that game without calling it a game of two halves?

The first game of the 2013 Six Nations left Irish fans wanting for nothing, except perhaps fingernails.

Declan Kidney’s Ireland had questions to answer: chief among them was whether the Argentina performance was a blip.

Instead the Pumas were a template.

Once again Ireland roared out of the traps and showed a ruthless streak thanks to our two electric wingers who make every trip to the 22 a viable scoring opportunity. Again, the intensity wore off and the tortoise began to gain on the hare.

The unbridled joy of watching Ireland run riot soon turned to wincing and deep breathing.

Yet there was precious little to complain about. Wales may have been a massive disappointment to their fans in the first half, but if you’re going to beat an inferior opponent, you have to do it in style. Rarely, if ever, has anything quite as stylish the contributions of Brian O’Driscoll and Simon Zebo been seen in an Irish jersey.

O’Driscoll’s pass to draw three defenders and sell them up the river for the Munster winger’s try has all-but confirmed the veteran as a Lions tourist for the fourth time this summer. Inspired, Zebo had the audacity to better that with an outrageous flick off the outside of his boot after Rory Best’s industry pushed Ireland into range a second time.

It was an incredible series of events. We’ve seen Wales capitulate before – albeit most often in Dublin - but this week, with Jim Telfer’s “lazy” criticism ringing in their ears, they were never likely to let that be that.

Even after the hammer-blow of O’Driscoll’s try in the opening minutes of the second half Wales somehow conjured a belief. Gethin Jenkins finally began to have some luck against Mike Ross and the platform for Ireland’s dominance began to disintegrate.

This is when Ireland really showed some title credentials. Mike Phillips pushed his pack on as they desperately tried to take all the shape off a game going against them. They succeeded, and Alex Cuthbert and Jonathan Davies were transformed from passengers to driving forces.

Ireland would spent the final quarter with only 14 men to withstand surge after surge of frantic pressure. They may have conceded 19 points with no reply in the last 32 minutes, but the defence, including some big moments from Craig Gilroy and Jonathan Sexton, would prove the difference in the sides.

Numbers

The only thing to come close to inspiring a reaction close that of Zebo’s magic left boot, was the BBC’s graphic of the tackle count. At the final whistle RuckingGoodStats stopped counting Ireland’s tally at 154 tackles completed (with 22 missed). At the time the BBC hoisted their numbers, Sean O’Brien had already amassed 20, so no doubt he exceeded the number ‘missed’  by the whole team.

Make no mistake, this was an incredible Irish display both in attack and defence. When Wales were slow out of the blocks they were punished to the absolute maximum. When they returned to their Grand Slam form in the second half, they were irresistible, but Ireland just did enough to keep them at arm’s length.

Pre-match, there were question marks over almost every element of this team. Today, they have passed every test and, whatever way you analyse it, they have two points to prove it.

Here’s how Twitter reacted to Ireland v Wales

Match report: Ireland up and running after epic clash in Cardiff

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