Ireland outhalf Jack Crowley goes on the offensive against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. [Inpho/Dan Sheridan]

Ireland prevail vs. brave Welsh

Ireland 31; Wales 7

They say that with every rose you get a thorn and so it was no surprise when Ireland's back-to-back Grand Slam aspirations drew a little blood against a Welsh side which did everything they could to force a shock at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

It means that Head Coach Andy Farrell and his merry men can roll onto Twickenham on Saturday week with the focus of a Grand Slam still in our crosshairs.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

Yet the shock of conceding an early second-half penalty try and temporarily losing talisman Tadgh Beirne to a yellow card at the same time meant that for a while the prospect of Wales getting back into the game from 17-7 and asking serious questions was very much a reality.

The comfort of such uncomfortable situations in the Farrell era is the memory that he asks his charges to embrace such unforeseen challenges and work out solutions on the hoof.

While it didn’t happen immediately, the fact that a 14-man Ireland could continue to operate without allowing their opponents to score again speaks volumes for how the men in the trenches can think on their feet.

Not just that, but then when the red waves of attack are forced back, you just marvel that, despite not playing at their best, they worked out a way not just to score one try but two so that they could advance on London with a third bonus point in as many games in the bag.

And having experienced such shoddy moments, this will act as a reminder to the men in green that they will face probably bigger obstacles on the day against the Red Rose if they are to return to face Scotland in the Six Nations’ denouement with the second Grand Slam still intact.

After slaying the Welsh, we now have 11 straight wins in this tournament with first half touchdowns by free-scoring hooker Dan Sheehan and winger James Lowe, allowing us a 17-0 lead.

We forced Wales into conceding nine first half penalties and on another day, we would have made that count much more on the scoreboard than we managed over the first 40 minutes.

Instead of building on our lead, we became sloppy and invited Wales onto the front foot, something they did with gusto for the opening quarter of the second moiety.

Realizing we were digging a hole for ourselves, the Ireland leaders regrouped and it was unusual but welcome when Ciarán Frawley in his first start at full-back, was the one to turn the corner by diving over for a third try.

It was now a question if we could recover our swagger sufficiently to get the elusive fourth try before time ran out.

We huffed and we puffed but it didn’t seem to be coming and it took replacement hooker Rónan Kelleher’s moment of magic to raise the sap in the Ireland challenge. He stole a jackal penalty because of his sheer cussedness and that seemed to break the Welsh spirit and renew ours. The third try wasn’t long arriving though.

Man of the Match Bundee Aki had burst over but a slight forward pass ruled it out before Frawley settled nerves. Then just as the officials were looking at their watches, up popped the indomitable Beirne to burst over for his second try of the series, his converted try ensuring Ireland of a 31-1 win and a bonus point to give us 15 at the top of the table.

Afterwards Coach Farrell assessed the game by declaring: "It probably should have been 40 or 44-7, there were a couple of tries that were notched off there. I thought we got what we deserved in the end. If the forward pass from Robbie [Henshaw] hadn't been knocked off I thought that was going to be an unbelievable try, and again, it was finding a way to make inroads.”

Referring to his opponents, he went on: “I actually thought they defended really well at times. It was hard to break down but to get the bonus-point win, 31-7, I thought we should have been further up in the first half to be fair, but I do understand that this is a young Welsh side that’s trying to gain experience as well, and I thought they played bloody tough, that’s for sure."

The Head Coach made special reference to the players who came in for Ireland to spark a second coming to get the bonus point. 

"They were always going to come on and add some power in the first place. When you bring a bit of power onto the field when others are a bit tired, and for that 10 minutes of the yellow card it was free flowing and there were people sucking it in big time.

"The subs were always going to take advantage of that and they got us back on the front foot. That's the job, that’s what we expect of them. If you fast-forward right to the end result and then work our way back, I thought we were tenacious to be able to get to that point, a 31-7 win with a bonus-point,” he emphasized.

Ireland: C Frawley; C Nash, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Lowe; J Crowley, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, D Sheehan, T Furlong; J McCarthy, T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), J van der Flier, C Doris Replacements: R Kelleher, C Healy, O Jager, J Ryan, R Baird, J Conan, C Murray, S McCloskey.