Joe Hawkins and George North of Wales attempt to stop Ireland's Mack Hansen in his tracks during Saturday's 6 Nations game in Cardiff. INPHO/ASHLEY CROWDEN

Ireland get perfect bonus-point start to 6 Nations campaign

Wales 10; Ireland 34

Ireland Head Coach Andy Farrell almost welcomes adverse situations that forces himself and his squad to think and act on their feet.

 And so it was at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday when he faced a Warren Gatland revival already without influential prop Tadgh Furlong and then saw this added to by the late withdrawals of scrum-half Jamison Gibson Park and veteran front-rower Cian Healy before kick-off.

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After agreeing to the hosts' request to close the roof of the stadium to make the home noise harder on Irish ears, Farrell took all the problems in his stride and told his charges to get out there and show the world what you can do.

And in fairness, they did precisely that. "If you said to us before the start of the game we'd get a bonus point win and play pretty well first up knowing what was going to be coming at us emotionally, I thought we handled the day pretty well," the Head Coach said laconically afterwards.

"There was no panic. We lost a couple of players during the week. We'd four or five players who have not played any rugby whatsoever for quite some time and two more dropped out this morning, but the squad never missed a beat.

"That's because of the prep, the hard work that we put in not just as a squad but as management etc., and it stands to you when you work hard. Our prep was really good over the past 12 days. Hopefully we can dust ourselves off, recover pretty well and bounce into the week.”

After winning 18 out of their last 20 test matches, it is probably no surprise that Farrell trusts his players and his methods like no other Irish manager has ever done. Certainly he has them playing at a tempo and with a degree of excellence that burns most opponents off, either early or late in the game.

In this instance it was early as three tries in the first quarter had us out the door on a 27-3 lead by half-time. Really though, it was the first 10 minutes when the trend of the game was decided as Ireland's fast play and superior physicality had them camped on the Welsh line. Their efforts were rewarded as Caelan Doris and James Ryan barged over for tries converted by Johnny Sexton. And when James Lowe read Dan Biggar's outside pass to intercept, he ran 80 meters to touchdown and virtually kill the game off as a contest.

Although totally outclassed in the first half, Wales showed glimpses of what they can do and when Liam Williams crossed early in the second half for a seven pointer, with loose-head Andrew Porter also giving away a penalty after the conversion for his late tackle, well for a second or 10, the thought of Gatland overseeing a modern-day sporting resurrection seemed a possibility.

Said Farrell: Wales were good, they were powerful, determined, they looked strong. We were able to stay on point ourselves and be pretty ruthless when we got down the other end of the field, which was pretty pleasing. Obviously, riding the storm of that 20-minute period, we came through well, we showed resilience there.

"We finished pretty strong, kept playing to the end and had a few chances where we didn't quite get what we deserved. All in all, a good day at the office and a good start to the competition."

A man who doesn't do worry or pretend, Farrell appears to be driven with an insatiable desire to make every team performance a better one than that which went before. They will need that this Saturday when they entertain the other form rugby team on the globe - France, who were lucky to escape with a victory against Italy on Sunday and their bonus point.

Looking ahead, the Head Coach said: "The work that we've put in so far will stand to us. We thought we'd have a decent performance coming in to the Wales match because of the way we'd prepared. We'll have to do that again and build on it next week."

The Ireland on-field general, Johnny Sexton, is enjoying life at 37 and thanking his lucky stars that he is still part of what the Andy Farrell era is developing.

"It was everything we spoke about during the week in terms of our accuracy, in terms of our discipline when they had the ball we were really good," said the out-half when contemplating the opening moiety.

Having conceded just one penalty in the opening 30 minutes as Wales were repeatedly penalized, referee Karl Dickson then began to blow Ireland for everything as they conceded a further 12 penalties for the rest of the game.

Sexton wasn't into bashing the ref, though, more pointing the finger at the players. "We gave away five penalties on the bounce when there was no need. All of them, it wasn't an unlucky penalty, they were clear penalties, and it's not good enough. That gave them access, and suddenly you go from a pretty comfortable lead to thinking 'if they score again we're in trouble', and the stadium would have gone mental.

"We held out, and all the messages were: 'we just need to win the next moment'. That's where we've come a long way in the last three years. Test match rugby is difficult, teams will have a purple patch, and the lads did really well to bounce back and get that all important fourth try," he stressed.

Looking ahead to Saturday's game, he stated: "We're up against it, but when we went over to Stade de France last year, it was probably the best atmosphere I've seen, and I'm sure our Irish fans will put on something similar. You relish every game you play for Ireland, even if we lost today we'd be relishing it because it's another Test match for Ireland.

"We need to start from zero again, we played unbelievably well for the last 12 days, and it wasn't perfect over the 80, but at half time I was going 'that's pretty good'. We need to keep building, and sort out that third quarter. We can't let that be the first 20 minutes next week, we need to be more consistent through the game."

If there were fears that the weight of expectation would prove too much for Ireland, this was an impressive response.

Despite missing key players, Ireland managed their first Six Nations win away to Wales since 2013 with scrum-half replacement Conor Murray playing really well in Gibson-Park's slot .

They say a good start is half the battle and Ireland certainly had won the battles with both Doris and Ryan bursting over for early tries, augmented by the breakaway Lowe try. All the while Sexton kept the scoreboard ticking over with three conversions and added a penalty to put the men in green out of sight by the short whistle.

Yes, Liam Williams crossed for a try at the start of the second half and even though we were more on the back foot, there was a belief that we could always ride the storm and come away with a sting or two before game's end, and that is precisely what happened as Josh Van Der Flier dotted down under the post in the final 10 minutes.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Finlay Bealham; Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Tom O’Toole, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Bundee Aki.

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