Ireland stay on course for successive Grand Slam titles with victory over Wales

By Sports Desk February 24, 2024

Ireland kept their quest for successive Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam titles on track by brushing aside spirited Wales with a dominant 31-7 victory in Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s men backed up crushing wins over France and Italy with a third consecutive bonus-point triumph to keep themselves in pole position for further championship glory.

First-half tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe paved the way for the reigning champions to equal England’s tournament record of 11 wins in a row.

Wales avoided embarrassment at the Aviva Stadium and briefly threatened an improbable fightback thanks to a second-half spell which brought a penalty try and a yellow card for Tadhg Beirne.

But a first Test try for stand-in Ireland full-back Ciaran Frawley broke their resolve before Beirne atoned for his earlier error by securing the bonus point at the death on an afternoon when flawless fly-half Jack Crowley kicked 11 points.

Ireland’s ominous march towards another clean sweep continues next month against England and Scotland, while winless Wales host France in round four ahead of a possible wooden spoon shoot-out with Italy.

A largely inexperienced Wales team crossed the Irish Sea as overwhelming underdogs on the back of narrow defeats to the Scots and Steve Borthwick’s side.

Visiting head coach Warren Gatland insisted he travelled with belief rather than hope and urged his players to make “everything uncomfortable” for the fancied hosts.

Wales’ bid to disrupt began with some colossal defending as the home team’s early dominance was initially rewarded only by a long-range Crowley penalty.

Yet Ireland’s well-oiled machine persisted with wave after wave of attack to break down the staunch resistance and take control of the scoreboard.

Hooker Sheehan powered over at the end of a line-out maul in the 21st minute to claim his fourth try of the tournament before Calvin Nash later teed up Lowe to touch down in the left corner.

Wales finally enjoyed some forays into Ireland’s 22 just before the break.

But Sam Costelow’s decision to kick a penalty to the corner failed to pay off, while a couple of costly fumbles ensured they went into half-time scoreless for a third match on the bounce, at 17-0 down.

Any potential fears Wales had of joining Italy in being nilled in Dublin were extinguished within three minutes of the restart as Tomos Williams’ quick tap penalty led to a momentum shift.

Italian referee Andrea Piardi awarded a penalty try at the end of a lengthy review of a collapsed maul on Ireland’s line, with Beirne sent to the sin bin for illegally changing his bind.

Fired-up Wales were well and truly in the ascendancy at that stage but failed to make further inroads on the scoreboard in Beirne’s absence before Ireland restored order.

After the bulldozing Bundee Aki was denied a try on review for Robbie Henshaw’s knock on, Frawley, deputising for the injured Hugo Keenan, gleefully dived under the posts to celebrate his first Test start in style.

Wales came close to a consolation score in the closing minutes, during which Ireland replacement James Ryan was sent to the sin bin.

Yet, with Beirne’s late finish compounding their misery, they ultimately slipped to a 10th defeat from their last 11 Six Nations fixtures as their wait for a first championship win in Dublin since 2012 goes on.

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    England ran riot against Ireland with head coach John Mitchell revealing their pivot to an all-action attack is designed to fill Twickenham.

    A crowd of 48,778 watched the Red Roses plunder 14 tries in an 88-10 victory that keeps them on course to win a sixth successive Guinness Women’s Six Nations title when they face France in a likely Grand Slam decider next weekend.

    Unstoppable wing Abby Dow and player of the match Ellie Kildunne completed hat-tricks, but there were fireworks across the field as England delivered on their promise to put on a show.

    Their ultimate aim is to run out at next year’s home World Cup in front of a sold-out Twickenham and Mitchell insisted that can only be achieved by captivating audiences with a style of play no longer based on forward dominance.

    “The girls presented a performance that went up a gear. We asked that of them during the week and they certainly delivered it,” the Kiwi said.

    “We’ve got a drive to fill the stadium on a consistent basis because we want to play here consistently.

    “If we can continue to produce performances like that it won’t be too long before we do fill all the seats. From that point of view, it’s only that style of rugby that will bring people to watch us.

    “We know we have other strengths as well, but this is a good sign and we’re only in the infancy of it.

    “It’s a testament to the girls because they go out and own it and see the rewards from it.”

    England have amassed 228 points after four rounds of the Six Nations, conceding only 20, and the lopsided scoreline at Twickenham is an ugly look for the competition.

    “I’m sure some people will chat about the competitiveness, but at the end of the day we drive ourselves in the way we prepare and that’s all we can focus on,” Mitchell said.

    “We’re not really in a position to judge the competition or its competitiveness. Our standards in the way we prepare have gone up a little bit in terms of level.”

    Ireland head coach Scott Bemand admitted his side were left “shell-shocked” by the game’s dominant force.

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    “This was a big game for a youthful group. Could we have predicted a margin like that? Probably not.”

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    England thrilled a bumper crowd at Twickenham by overwhelming Ireland 88-10 to set up a likely Grand Slam decider against France next weekend.

    The Red Roses amassed 14 tries in front of 48,778 fans with the unstoppable Abby Dow and Ellie Kildunne completing hat-tricks, while Megan Jones and Jess Breach each crossed twice.

    For all Dow’s finishing instincts, it was full-back Kildunne who shone brightest through a captivating display in attack, and her athleticism was a constant threat to Ireland.

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    Dow left a trail of green shirts on the ground to begin the onslaught and Hunt was the next to score after making a dynamic solo break.

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    When she crossed on the half-hour mark it was a simple finish to a move started by England’s line-out maul as the home pack asserted itself up front.

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    The Irish ran out of defenders as Breach switched on the afterburners to race over, and just eight minutes into the second half England surpassed 50 points for the first time in this Six Nations when Sadia Kabeya powered over.

    Ireland were outclassed but showed plenty of fight against the game’s dominant force and their determination paid off when they were awarded a penalty try for seeing a driving maul thwarted illegally.

    Lucy Packer was sent to the sin-bin as a result, but England still scored next when Jones weaved a path through the opposition midfield.

    Emily Scarratt received a loud cheer when she replaced Tatyana Heard and Dow ran in her third, ushering in a traumatic final quarter for Ireland who were swamped by better conditioned opponents.

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    Mo Hunt insists England are ready to thrill a bumper audience at Twickenham when they face Ireland in the Guinness Women’s Six Nations on Saturday.

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    England have averaged 47 points a game in their three wins to date but Hunt wants the attack that has been enhanced under head coach John Mitchell to take another step forward.

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    “The best is yet to come for us, I truly believe that. We’ve spoken about the discipline and the penalties, but also our one-team attack – every time we train it is starting to look better and better.

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    England have a 100 per cent record in the tournament despite seeing Sarah Beckett and Amy Cokayne sent off against Italy and Scotland, respectively.

    The red cards have fed into the ‘game is unfair’ mantra adopted under Mitchell as the Kiwi looks to turn the game’s dominant force into world champions by preparing them for moments when circumstances have conspired against them.

    Lydia Thompson’s dismissal for a high tackle on Portia Woodman that contributed to England’s defeat by New Zealand in the 2022 World Cup final has given Mitchell’s message powerful affirmation.

    “When Mitch put a picture up of Lyds and said ‘the game isn’t fair’, it hit so many of us in our hearts because Lyds is the most unbelievable human and obviously that moment was tough for everyone,” Hunt said.

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