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Ireland impress vs. Wales, on course for Triple Crown

Ideally, Italy might just have pulled off a miracle result by beating France in Paris on Sunday to put Ireland back in the Six Nations Championship race. But this was never going to happen and France romped home 46-20 to make virtually certain of finishing on top of the table.

For Ireland to move ahead of them it would take an England victory in Paris next weekend and a 51 point swing. Never mind. Triple Crowns are not to be sniffed at, especially when they come in a season when there was a good deal of sorting out to be done.

Ireland had to prove a point after losing so decisively in Paris. The knives were out in some quarters with scrum-half Tomas O'Leary and wing Keith Earls being among those to come in for criticism.

Both have responded magnificently in the two subsequent outings. O'Leary scored a try against Scotland and was named "Man of the Match," while the honor could just as easily have gone to Earls after he crossed for two tries.

Given his father Seanie's history in helping Cork win four-in-a-row, and his own exploits there in a Cork minor hurling jersey, performing the way he did at Croke Park really meant something special to Tomas O'Leary. And next Saturday's Triple Crown meeting with Scotland will, be believes, be even better.

"It will be unbelievable, especially as it will be the last Six Nations game at Croke Park." O'Leary reflected. "Croke Park is such a massive part of the Irish identity and it will be a huge honor for me personally if we can win a Triple Crown there."

Every chance. The remarkable aspect to the victories over England and Wales is that Ireland have scored six quality tries without getting an awful lot of the ball. When they have secured possession, Ireland have been clinical in their finishing.

The fact that five of the six tries have come from the wings, with Earls getting three and Tommy Bowe two, speaks for itself. As usual, O'Driscoll was always at the hub of matters on Saturday, playing a key role in two of the three tries against Wales and defending superbly throughout.

Ireland had to do a good deal of defending once again, making 121 tackles to Wales' 63, and also try to fathom some of South African referee's Craig Joubert's interpretations. To further complicate matter, they lost Gordon D'Arcy with with a leg injury after just 24 minutes, making him doubtful for the meeting with the Scots.

But skipper O'Driscoll never let his team lose their shape against a Welsh outfit that surprisingly badly lacked ideas in attack. Importantly, Ireland also made full use of Lee Byrne's first half yellow card, scoring two smashing tries through Earls and O'Leary to lead 16-6 at the interval.

With the line-out functioning particularly well, there was never any question of Wales getting back into it, and a further try from Earls, set up by O'Leary, ended all resistence in the second half. Had Jonny Sexton been on top form with his goal kicking, Wales would have suffered a much worse beating.

All in all a pretty satisfying day, highlighted by O'Driscoll reaching the 100 cap mark. Lions No 8 Jamie Heaslip probably paid the best tribute, stating: "I tell you, any player getting 100 caps is outstanding, but then you think of Brian, and 63 of those are as captain. It's unbelievable." No arguments there.

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