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Saturday 21 July 2018

One step closer to Slam

Ireland 37 Wales 27

BONUS POINT: Ireland players (l-r) Bundee Aki, Conor Murray, Dan Leavy, Andrew Porter and Devin Toner celebrate as Cian Healy scores his side’s fourth try during the Six Nations match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
BONUS POINT: Ireland players (l-r) Bundee Aki, Conor Murray, Dan Leavy, Andrew Porter and Devin Toner celebrate as Cian Healy scores his side’s fourth try during the Six Nations match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

There is a prophet among us. Former Ireland international Shane Horgan marked Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Chris Farrell and Jacob Stockdale as pivotal in Ireland's bid to undermine and, ultimately, end Wales' Six Nations championship as pirations.

"If those four players take on responsibility, in a big way, then they will probably determine the outcome of this game," he said.

How did they do? They stuck to what got them in green in the first place.

Ireland broke Wales open to equal the best ever sequence of ten straight wins previously held by Eddie O'Sullivan's celebrated crew of 2002 and 2003.

It owed everything to everyone, from coach Joe Schmidt, his trusted lieutenants Andy Farrell, Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy to the player hierarchy from Johnny Sexton all the way down the chain of command to Ryan, Farrell, Porter and Stockdale.

Exemplary

On reflection, pass master Sexton's control of the game was exemplary, pulling the ball back, whizzing it across the face of the vaunted Welsh rush defence and changing the point of attack.

There was also the ongoing belligerence in defence to always get back up and never give up the fight.

However, the skills of Tadhg Furlong, absent on Saturday, would be almost redundant without the core duty to anchor the scrum.

The fact Sexton could afford to have a completely off-colour day with his place-kicking and take off to the corner in the 68th minute when penalty points would have made it a two-score game spoke to Ireland's spread of responsibility.

On this rare occasion, they could do without Sexton's boot, though they could not do without the rest of his all-court game.

OPENER: Jacob Stockdale scores Ireland’s s first try despite the efforts of Leigh Halfpenny of Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday
OPENER: Jacob Stockdale scores Ireland’s s first try despite the efforts of Leigh Halfpenny of Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday

In the end, it didn't matter because all of the Four Musketeers plunged their swords into the dangerous Welsh.

And so the old adage - you are only as strong as your weakest link made for a chain that just about held Ireland together.

Joe Schmidt has been careful about exposing these young men to the glare of the media.

On Saturday, Farrell was front and centre as the Man of the Match - there was no getting out of that one - and, somewhere in the belly of Lansdowne Road, the other three were put forward for media scrutiny.

More than all others, this was their 80-minutes in the sunshine.

"You've got to be a little bit excited about the likes of James Ryan and Andrew Porter," said the coa ch.

Ireland's Chris Farrell
Ireland's Chris Farrell

"What a huge stage to come onto and replacing two huge players for us in Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson.

"Chris Farrell grabbed the man of the match and Jacob Stockdale has got a handful of caps and eight tries."

True to form, Schmidt will be more worried about the game-on-game leak of tries than excited about the eight posted against Italy and the five against Wales.

"What we are creating is keeping us safe from losses," said Schmidt.

"But we've got to do better than conceding three tries two weekends in a row."

Coach Warren Gatland cursed Wales' indiscipline.

Just two weeks after coughing up two penalties against England at Twickenham, they were bad for nine in Dublin, seven of them in the first half alone.

"To me the biggest frustration was the penalty count in the first half," he said.

"Even though it was seven, it was really nine because they had two penalty advantages and they scored off that.

"We spoke about discipline and how important that was against an Irish team who thrive on playing through lots of phases and sqeezing you.

"When they get penalties they're generally pretty clinical at converting them into three or five points.

"To me that was the real disappointing thing, particularly from the first-half."

Schmidt might well counter this argument by pointing out how Ireland scored four of their five tries in the second half, once Wales had stopped killing the ball inside the 22.

The back and forth of the coaches is all in the rear view mirror now.

There is only the road ahead to England in Twickenham, via Scotland back in Lansdowne Road.

And they say you can win nothing with kids.

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