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Hansen stars as impressive Ireland power to bonus-point win over Wales

Andrew Conway scored twice as Ireland dominated the Welsh in Dublin.

Ireland 29

Wales 7

bundee-aki-celebrates-scoring-their-first-try-with-mack-hansen-and-caelan-doris Mack Hansen was player of the match on his debut. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WALES WERE MISSING several key men and Ireland were firm favourites but this was still mightly impressive on the opening day of the Six Nations.

Andy Farrell’s side got their title bid up and running with a bonus-point win that saw them physically dominate Wales and shred them at times with their cutting-edge attack.

If anything, it probably should have been an even bigger win. How the full house in Dublin enjoyed this Irish victory despite the second-half rain. The Mexican Waves were going with more than 10 minutes left.

Ireland made it nine consecutive victories as they kept up their momentum from November and confidence will be high heading to Paris next weekend. It will be a far, far tougher test against France but make no mistake about it, this Irish team will be targeting a Grand Slam.

There will be calm and self-critical review of this win, of course. Ireland should have led by more than 10-0 at the half-time break but they spurned a handful of chances in Wales territory.

They got the job done thereafter, aided by Josh Adams’ 10 minutes in the sin bin for a dangerous hit on Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, wing Andrew Conway dotting down two tries during the opening 11 minutes of the second half.

garry-ringrose-celebrates-scoring-their-fourth-try-with-andrew-conway-and-johnny-sexton Sexton celebrates a Garry Ringrose try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Bundee Aki had scored after just two minutes thanks in part to the impressive start by excellent debutant left wing Mack Hansen, who carried on his Connacht form by brilliantly filling into the role vacated by the injured James Lowe.

Garry Ringrose finished superbly in the second half but this victory was as much about the startling power and skill level of the Irish pack. The front row of Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, and Tadhg Furlong picked up where they left off, Tadhg Beirne was outstanding in the second row, and gainline machine Caelan Doris was perhaps the pick of an excellent back row effort.

Ireland were ultra-disciplined throughout, conceding just four penalties – none in the first half – but the best thing for Farrell and his coaching staff is that there is still room for improvement.

Wales, meanwhile, were very poor on the day after their U20s were hammered by Ireland in Cork. Taine Basham in the back row was one of the few to emerge with credit from this afternoon in Dublin and it’s a worrying outcome for Welsh rugby. They must rally now for the visit of Scotland to Cardiff next weekend.

As opening days go, this was good stuff from Ireland. They have momentum now and a thrilling championship awaits.

bundee-aki-celebrates-scoring-their-first-try-with-mack-hansen-and-caelan-doris Mack Hansen celebrates Bundee Aki's early try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland and Hansen started superbly as the drizzle cleared in Dublin, the Connacht wing enjoying an early surge up the left after gathering a deflected Sexton grubber, chipping ahead, and pressuring Louis Rees-Zammit into knocking the ball into touch.

Farrell’s men struck clinically from the ensuing lineout, Doris getting momentum with a big carry off the maul and Furlong coming around the corner to carry before Ireland swung back to the left where Beirne passed out the back to Sexton and he hit Hansen, who lifted a lovely pass over the edge of Wales’ defence to give Aki an easy finish.

Sexton’s conversion had Ireland 7-0 in front just three minutes in and they should have extended that lead soon after only for the out-half to mishit two kickable penalty shots at goal, one from the left of the posts and one from the right.

Ireland’s fluid attack was causing Wales serious problems as they struggled to deal with those link passes out the back from the Irish forwards, with a stunning example from Furlong allowing Sexton to break and hit Conway wide on the right before Wales shot up offside in their scramble.

From under the posts, Sexton made it 10-0 with a quarter of the game gone.

Wales finally enjoyed some possession and territory thereafter but Ireland’s defence was physically dominant as Beirne led a choke tackle turnover, the Irish breakdown competition forced a Welsh knock-on, then Conan earned a jackal turnover penalty.

tadhg-furlong-with-with-wyn-jones-and-tomos-williams Tadhg Furlong carries for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As the rain came in again nearing half time, Ireland had two more fruitless visits into the Wales 22, the first coming after a beautiful Keenan offload and the second following an Irish scrum penalty on Furlong’s side.

Frustratingly for Ireland, they lacked the accuracy to take advantage, with Gibson-Park passing over the head of Hansen into touch just before the break.

But Wales had a disastrous start to the second half, with Josh Adams caught offside then Will Rowlands giving up a maul penalty to invite Ireland into the left-hand corner. With another penalty advantage playing, Sexton flung a long pass out to Conway, who checked to gather on the bounce and finished superbly past Adams, stretching out his right arm for a TMO-confirmed score.

Sexton converted for 17-0 and was soon the target of a reckless bit of play from Wales centre Adams, who deliberately smashed the Ireland captain after the ball bounced up in the air. His yellow card was thoroughly deserved.

The home side instantly made their numerical advantage count as Hansen’s sharp pass freed Conway up the right before Beirne’s tip-on sent van der Flier scything through. James Ryan should have passed for a try wide on the left only to carry and get stopped just short. But Ireland were calm and with advantage playing, Gibson-Park lifted a nice pass over the top to Conway for his second try in the right corner in 10 minutes.

andrew-conway-celebrates-their-second-try-with-jamison-gibson-park-and-hugo-keenan Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton curled in another two points from wide out for 24-0 and Ireland nearly had the bonus-point score before the final quarter, only for Doris to get penalised for ‘double banking’ at a close-range maul in the left corner.

Just a minute later, Ireland sealed it as Porter made a strip turnover out on the left, Sexton, Hansen and Aki passed to Ringrose wide on the right and he surged 25 metres upfield and through two despairing tackles attempts for a brilliant finish.

By now, Farrell was emptying the bench and there was annoyance at conceding a late score to the excellent Wales flanker Basham but this was Ireland’s day.

Onwards and quite possibly upwards.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Bundee Aki, Andrew Conway [2], Garry Ringrose

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [3 from 4]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [1 from 3]

Wales scorers:

Tries: Taine Basham

Conversions: Callum Sheedy [1 from 1]

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Andrew Conway  (James Hume ’62), Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Joey Carbery ’64), Jamison Gibson-Park (Conor Murray ’70); Andrew Porter (Cian Healy ’66), Rónan Kelleher (Dan Sheehan ’62), Tadhg Furlong (Finlay Bealham ’53); Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan (Ryan Baird ’66); Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan (Peter O’Mahony ’53).

WALES: Liam Williams; Johnny McNicholl  (Owen Watkin ’64), Josh Adams (yellow card ’50), Nick Tompkins, Louis Rees-Zammit; Dan Biggar (captain) (Callum Sheedy ’73), Tomos Williams (Gareth Davies ’58); Wyn Jones (Gareth Thomas ’53), Ryan Elias (Dewi Lake ’53), Tomas Francis (Dillon Lewis ’53); Will Rowlands (Ben Carter ’75), Adam Beard; Ellis Jenkins (Ross Moriarty ’53), Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.

Referee: Jaco Peyper [SARU]
Assistant refs: Mathieu Raynal [FFR] and Angus Gardner [RA]
TMO: Stuart Terheege [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium

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