Wales clinched the Six Nations with a 25-7 victory over Ireland on Saturday to win the title for the first time since 2013.
The home side got off to a flying start as centre Hadleigh Parkes scored after two minutes at the Principality Stadium.
Gareth Anscombe converted the try before adding six penalty goals to secure coach Warren Gatland a third Grand Slam clean sweep of his 12-year tenure.
Substitute Jordan Larmour dotted down for an Irish consolation try.
Here’s our report card from a one-sided contest.
Wales class: Superior in every facet of the game. They were that half a second quicker to everything, right from George North’s first tackle on Jacob Stockdale to Parkes early try after two minutes. They were accurate in their execution, more clinical with possession, played the referee really well and made less mistakes than Ireland. They drove through contact, worked incessantly at the breakdown and showed a general hunger to the contest that the Men in Green couldn’t match. They nullified Ireland’s key strengths from speed of ruck and attack from maul – areas where they have generally gained a foothold in the contest. If they can continue to play with this discipline and commitment, then they will be hard stopped in Japan later this year.
Warren Gatland: The Wales coach has now overseen three Grand Slams and three Six Nations titles as well as leading the Dragons to the World Cup semi-final in 2011. That’s not to forget the success he has enjoyed as Lions coach in 2013 and 2017. But, still the 55-year-old doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He seems to know how to get it done when it comes down to these big Test matches, producing a tactical masterclass to disrupt Ireland at maul and line-out time. His side were dominant, clinical and accurate throughout the championship, and although their football wasn’t champagne-like for three out of the five games, they are still well-deserved champions.
Ireland struggle: The Men in Green looked slow and sluggish from the start, beating themselves with their incessant penalty count. Joe Schmidt’s side pride themselves on their discipline, but the concession of eight penalties in the first half alone highlighted the pressure they were under. In total, they gave away 11 penalties and looked on the backfoot for the entire game. The back-row were non-existent, the line-out faltered and they couldn’t get into the game cause of their poor discipline and huge Welsh pressure.
Murray/Sexton worryingly bad: Ireland’s most important pairing have yet to show the same class from 2018. A world-class duo, they have been well short of their potential and general influence this campaign. Against Wales, their distribution was slow and inaccurate, the kicks were mixed and their general influence on proceedings was weak. Sexton looked nothing close to Player of the Year standard, while Murray doesn’t look a patch on the same player from 12 months ago. A lot of Murray’s flaws can be down to reduced power in his right arm from the neck injury he sustained during the second half of 2018. But for Sexton, is it a case of second season syndrome after scaling the mega heights of 2018?
2 mins: Jones wins the line-out and Wales shift the ball infield. A number of phases later, Anscombe cuts a well-measured kick from the outside of the boot in behind the Ireland defence. Parkes gathers and touches down. Anscombe converts (7-0).
18 mins: Anscombe knocks over a penalty (10-0).
35 mins: The 27-year-old slots a penalty after Tadhg Furlong was whistled for off-side (13-0).
40 mins: Anscombe tucks away a penalty from 33 metres (16-0).
48 mins: Anscombe steps up to put the ball between the posts (19-0).
54 mins: The Cardiff Blues man knocks over his sixth kick (22-0).
69 mins: Anscombe posts another penalty to make it 25-0.
80 mins: Larmour collects possession and races over the line to score a consolation try for Ireland. Jack Carthy converts (25-7).
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
Wales controlled territory, possession and the breakdown in a manner that forced Ireland to make mistakes. They were smarter than Ireland, more streetwise and looked a more organised unit, even from Parkes early try. Trailing 16-0 at the break, Ireland never recovered and continued to make errors, given they were put under an immense amount of pressure from Wales. They couldn’t get into their flow and that was down to the tenacity of the Wales defence and how difficult they made it for Ireland at the breakdown. From this, Anscombe kept pushing Wales further and further ahead on the scoreline. A well-deserved Grand Slam and one hell of a performance to produce on the final day.
Wales – A+: Not many faults in this famous display. It wasn’t a classic by any means, but Gatland’s side dominated every facet of the game. Just like they did all tournament. Wyn Jones and Anscombe were magic.
Ireland – D: Perhaps one of the worst performances in the Joe Schmidt era. It was disappointing to see their high penalty count, lack of fight and not even a point on the board over the course of the 80 mins.
Wales will secure the Six Nations title and a Grand Slam if they beat Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.
England still have hopes of silverware, but they need to beat Scotland at Twickenham, while also requiring an Ireland victory over Wales.
Jones said on Thursday that Wales were “starting to look a bit tired” after making “more tackles than anyone else in the tournament,” and were facing an Ireland side “that seems to be peaking at the right time.”
When the Australian’s comments were put to him, Wales head coach Gatland corrected the Autralian, pointing out that it is actually England who have made most tackles in the tournament – 793 compared to Wales’ 660.
📹 Warren Gatland: 'We want to embrace this weekend....We don't want to let the opportunity pass us by." pic.twitter.com/sNPG0RltYf— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 14 March 2019
Gatland, laughing, said: “What the hell is Eddie Jones doing talking about our game?
“If it was me, I would be concentrating on playing Scotland. I’ve got no comment on Eddie Jones talking about us.
“If you look at the stats, England have made a hell of a lot more tackles than us in this tournament. My advice to Eddie is to concentrate on the Scotland match.”
Wales are bidding for a third Grand Slam under Gatland – it would be a record for any Five or Six Nations coach if his players accomplish it – and also leave them in great shape six months before their World Cup challenge in Japan.
“I pride myself on the record I’ve had in big matches when it has really mattered,” added Gatland, ahead of his final Six Nations game as Wales head coach before he steps down later this year.
“I even get more of a buzz when people write us off, which has happened on a number of occasions before.
“It’s about building belief and confidence in the players. We’ve worked in the (Six Nations) down weeks and we’ve trained as hard as any team I have seen.
“We’ve put that training in the bank, and there is no way anyone is training as hard as us in this Six Nations.
“If you want something bad enough and you really believe it can happen, then it often does.”
Gatland, meanwhile, readily acknowledges Ireland’s threat, particularly the one presented by their British & Irish Lions half-backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
“It will be the same approach we had with England,” he said. “We put Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell under pressure, and Conor and Johnny are key.
“When we’ve had success against Ireland in the past, we’ve tried to put pressure on Conor and Johnny and shut their space down.
“There is no doubt that when Johnny gets front-foot ball he controls the game exceptionally well. We saw against England that when we did put pressure on Owen, we got some success from that.
“It’s very much part of the game. You look at opposition 10s and where their strengths are, and you try to negate some of those strengths.
“Johnny is world player of the year and absolutely world-class.
“We’ve got to put him under pressure, but in saying that Ireland have world-class players all over the place and they can keep the ball for long phases.”
England head coach Eddie Jones has attempted to undermine Wales’ Grand Slam bid by declaring they must face Ireland while suffering from fatigue.
Warren Gatland’s men will be crowned Six Nations champions if they prevail at the Principality Stadium in the second of Saturday’s three fixtures.
But England are waiting to pounce knowing that if Wales falter, then victory over Scotland in the finale to the tournament at Twickenham will propel them to the title.
Jones has ramped up the pressure by insisting resurgent Ireland are ready to capitalise on Welsh weariness.
“I’m just saying what I see and I see a team that’s looking tired. It’s tough. You can see they’re getting tired,” Jones said.
“They have made more tackles than anyone else in the tournament and they are playing against an Ireland side that seems to be peaking at the right time.
“Ireland have had a few players off the pace, which happens. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray have been off the pace a little bit, but now they look like they’ve got their mojo back.
“They’re working well together. It was quite evident in the last game that their relationship was stronger than it has been for a while.
“You’ve got Garry Ringrose playing well, Peter O’Mahony coming back. James Ryan went through a little bit of… he was the star and everyone targeted him.
“Now he’s finding his feet again. They’re in a good spot. And they’ve got a lot to prove in the last game.”