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Lowe and Roux tries help Ireland to winning start in the Autumn Nations Cup

Andy Farrell’s men came out on top but captain Johnny Sexton is an injury concern ahead of the England clash.

Ireland 32

Wales 9

ANDY FARRELL’S IRELAND got off to a winning start in the Autumn Nations Cup but it may have come at a cost as captain Johnny Sexton and his replacement at out-half, the debutant Billy Burns, were both forced off injured.

A first-half try from the superb Quinn Roux proved important in Ireland’s victory while James Lowe powered over for a last-minute score on debut in a game that saw Conor Murray playing the closing 15 minutes at out-half.

james-lowe-celebrates-scoring-their-second-try-with-caelan-doris James Lowe scored a late try on debut. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Munster scrum-half slotted two penalties and a conversion for Ireland in that time on an evening that had started with Ireland ruling out lock Iain Henderson and fullback Jacob Stockdale before kick-off.

That allowed Roux to come into the starting XV, along with Andrew Conway, and the Connacht man delivered an excellent performance as he and tighthead prop Andrew Porter did plenty of damage to the Welsh scrum.

James Lowe had some very strong moments on his Test debut on the left wing, suggesting that he is capable of thriving at this level, while Jamison Gibson-Park looked very sharp on his first Ireland start at scrum-half.

Number eight Caelan Doris was man of the match with a physically dominant performance in his natural position – assisting Lowe’s score – and Farrell will have some interesting selection calls to ponder ahead of next weekend’s visit to England. 

Skipper Sexton departed with a hamstring injury in the 28th minute – with James Ryan taking over as captain for the first time – and Farrell will be hoping that issue clears in time to allow the 35-year-old to start in Twickenham. Burns is another concern after being forced off with a head injury in the second half.

It was a largely frustrating second 40 minutes in Dublin after a promising first half had seen Ireland into a 16-6 lead that they will likely feel should have been more, with several impressive attacking passages failing to yield points.

The dominant Irish scrum was a pleasing sight for the Irish coaching staff ahead of a massive test in that department in Twickenham next weekend but the sense is that Ireland will need to find another few gears across the board if they are to compete with the English.

Keeping the Welsh tryless was another real positive for Ireland, but the reality is that Wyne Pivac’s side were poor again as they recorded their sixth consecutive defeat. This is a worrying time for a team that has rapidly regressed since Warren Gatland’s departure.

tempers-flare-between-the-sides There was real niggle to the contest in Dublin. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was niggle from very early in the game as the excellent Peter O’Mahony and Alun Wyn Jones came face-to-face in one exchange, but the Welsh would have been disappointed not to convert two lineout platform in the Ireland 22 in the opening five minutes into points.

Instead, Ireland showed the greater attacking incision, a clever lineout play freeing Sexton to break only for Lowe to drop his pass on the left touchline with the opportunity clear.

Ireland’s scrum dominance began from the ensuing scrum with a first penalty and they won a second just after hooker Ronan Kelleher’s crooked throw into a lineout on the Wales five-metre line. Sexton opted to take the points.

Ireland appeared to be en route to the opening try in the 14th minute as meaty carries from Roux, Doris, and Porter, as well as another Sexton dart, left them just metres out, but Justin Tipuric swooped for a turnover penalty after Ryan had carried.

The Welsh soon equalised as Robbie Henshaw was pinged for not releasing following a tackle on Jonathan Davies, with Biggar popping over the three points.

But Ireland’s set-piece attack created another opportunity as a clever inside pass from Gibson-Park off the edge of a maul found Lowe coming from an initial position at the front of the lineout. He showed his power to break and then offloaded inside to Sexton, who was hauled down. 

quinn-roux-scores-their-first-try Quinn Roux scored for Ireland in the opening half. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As they scrambled to recover, Wales gave up a penalty and Ireland opted for the five-metre scrum. They went direct with their attack as Doris’ strong carry left them close and then Roux picked and battered his way over, Sexton converting for 10-3.

The Ireland out-half added another three points just after his clever grubber kick saw the retreating Davies spill the ball and Henshaw pounced for a turnover penalty when Halfpenny dived on the scraps. 

Sexton hurt his hamstring in the process of kicking, however, and Ulster’s Burns was sent on for his debut with just 28 minutes gone.

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A scrum decision went against Ireland a few minutes later, despite them moving forward, and Halfpenny reduced the deficit from the tee. But that was a very brief respite as Ireland soon turned over a Welsh scrum against the head and surged into their 22 to win another penalty that Burns slotted.

With the lion’s share of possession and territory, Ireland would have been frustrated not to add another score before the break but Conway was tackled into touch on a shortside attack from a maul and then a TMO review ruled out a possible Irish try after lineout pressure from Ryan had seen Will Rowlands bat the ball down into his own in-goal area.

Referee Mathieu Raynal ruled that Porter had knocked-on in the scramble and Ireland led 16-6 at half-time. 

johnny-sexton-is-replaced-by-billy-burns Johnny Sexton was forced off injury in the first half. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Halfpenny had a shot at goal from halfway six minutes into the second half as Ireland restarted rather sloppily to allow the visitors some much-needed momentum. The Welsh fullback was on target in the 50th minute to draw his side back to 16-9 after Hugo Keenan was turnover over when Ireland attempted to attack out of their own 22.

It was Doris who got Ireland back into the game, blocking down Gareth Davies’ attempted box-kick exit and then showing real intelligence to flick the ball back infield just before it hit the touchline, allowing Cian Healy to gather and dive for the tryline, Wales just about managing to hold him up.

Ireland couldn’t convert from the five-metre scrum, though, as the Welsh repelled their direct attack and Healy was turned over.

But a clever sniping break from Gibson-Park after the Welsh exit kick saw Raynal award another penalty, with Burns kicking the three points for 19-9.

James Ryan’s high tackle on Josh Adams on the Ireland 22 meant Halfpenny had another chance off the tee soon after but he surprisingly missed as the contest entered its final quarter.

chris-farrell-and-leigh-halfpenny Chris Farrell competes in the air against Leigh Halfpenny. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

An injury to replacement Burns saw Murray entering the fray at out-half in the 65th minute and he was quickly pressed into action as he also took over from the tee, making no mistake by slotting a penalty just after coming on.

Murray added another penalty and though the game really didn’t ignite thereafter, the Munster man did a fine job as the makeshift out-half.

Raynal’s decision-making didn’t help the flow of the game in the closing 10 minutes but Ireland did finish strongly as Doris picked and arced off a five-metre scrum before popping to Lowe on a short, hard line off his right shoulder.

The Leinster man barreled over for his first Test try and Murray converted with the final act of the game.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Quinn Roux, James Lowe

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [1 from 1], Conor Murray [1 from 1]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [2 from 2], Billy Burns [2 from 2], Conor Murray [2 from 2]

Wales scorers:

Penalties: Dan Biggar [1 from 1], Leigh Halfpenny [2 from 4]

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw (Keith Earls ’71), James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Billy Burns ’28 ((Conor Murray ’65)), Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy (Ed Byrne ’60), Ronan Kelleher (Dave Heffernan ’65), Andrew Porter (Finlay Bealham ’65); Quinn Roux (Tadhg Beirne ’65), James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier (Will Connors ’70), Caelan Doris.

WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies (George North ’60), Owen Watkin, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar (Callum Sheedy ’67), Gareth Davies (Lloyd Williams); Rhys Carré (Wyn Jones ’40), Ryan Elias (Elliot Dee ’52), Tomas Francis (Samson Lee ’52); Will Rowlands (Jake Ball ’52 – reversal ’79), Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Shane Lewis-Hughes, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau (Aaron Wainwright ’71). 

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [FFR].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium

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