Ireland eased past reigning champions Wales 29-7 in the opening game of the Six Nations championship in Dublin on Saturday, picking up where they left off in November with a comfortable victory.
Ireland looked every inch one of the tournament favourites when they roared out of the blocks in the same manner that toppled New Zealand three months ago but still needed a second half burst to put the injury-hit visitors out of sight.
“It’s never going to be perfect in your first game but we’ve got everything to play for and we know there’s a massive test ahead next week,” captain Johnny Sexton said in a pitchside interview, referring to next week’s trip to France.
It took Sexton’s men just two minutes to take control. An attacking lineout that has proved so lethal of late was the starting point again with Bundee Aki crossing in the corner, aided by a nice looped pass from debutant winger Mack Hansen.
It felt like only a matter of time before the hosts would score again from hand but a couple of sloppy errors – including Sexton uncharacteristically missing two out of three shots at goal – invited Wayne Pivac’s side back into the game
A predictable attack from a side shorn of 680 caps through injuries to the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, George North and Taulupe Faletau was comfortably contained by Ireland’s choke tackle defence.
While a better side could punish Ireland later in the tournament for not being clinical enough to extend their lead beyond 10-0 at halftime, Andy Farrell’s side returned in a much more ruthless mood after the interval.
Andrew Conway put Ireland out of sight with two tries either side of a yellow card for makeshift Wales centre Josh Adams, first using every millimetre of his 1.8 metre frame to reach for the corner and simply collecting a pass to add another.
Centre Garry Ringrose snaked through the porous Welsh defence on the hour to make sure of the winning bonus point.
Ireland emptied their bench and with that lost a little bit of concentration, allowing Wales flanker Taine Basham in for a late try that ensured the visitors did not add a scoreless outing to an otherwise miserable afternoon.
The win extended Ireland’s winning run to nine games but they will face an altogether more difficult test in Paris if they are to make it 10 in a row.