Wales 25-7 Ireland: Hosts clinch emphatic Six Nations Grand Slam in Cardiff
By Michael Cantillon at the Principality Stadium
Last Updated: 17/03/19 6:02am
A Hadleigh Parkes try and six Gareth Anscombe penalties ensured Wales clinched a memorable Six Nations Grand Slam with a resounding 25-7 success over Ireland in teeming rain at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
Warren Gatland's charges worked tirelessly to secure a first championship clean sweep since 2012, relentlessly tackling in another display of supreme fitness, but it was the overwhelming ill-discipline of Ireland which did for Joe Schmidt's defending champions.
In Gatland's final year in charge, he oversaw a third Grand Slam success and fourth Six Nations title in his 11th campaign to end things in perfect fashion in front of a crackling atmosphere.
Wales made the perfect start to the contest when Jacob Stockdale was driven off the park straight from Anscombe's kick off, and from that field-position the Kiwi-born out-half produced an exquisite chip with the outside of his right foot behind the Irish defence for Parkes to gather and score.
Ireland's first period of possession was ended after 11 phases around the Wales 22 when Cian Healy knocked on, before a last-ditch Parkes tackle stopped Stockdale searing down the left for a try after an inventive cross-field kick penalty from Johnny Sexton on the opposite flank.
A maul penalty in midfield allowed Wales more territory in the Ireland 22, but that was ended after 17 phases when Tadhg Beirne produced a phenomenal steal on top of his own line.
Wales were next to trouble the scoreboard though when Sexton went off feet at the breakdown and Anscombe nailed his penalty effort from distance, wide on the right.
Penalties were killing Ireland as they gave away one near the Wales 22 for side entry and another in their own half for offside - but Wales were denied the chance to extend their lead when the penalty was reversed for Gareth Davies diving on top of Bundee Aki on the floor.
Ireland had their best chance of the first half on 25 minutes when a maul penalty and Sexton kick to the corner offered a five-metre lineout opportunity. But it came to nothing as Wales forced the turnover by making the maul unplayable.
Ireland maintained territory, however, until No 8 CJ Stander near-comically kicked a quick tap into his own man after the awarding of a scrum free-kick, causing an accidental offside and turnover in the Wales 22.
Another Ireland penalty for offside in the 35th minute - after a lineout malfunction from the visitors - saw Anscombe and Wales stretch their lead to 13-0 off the tee.
In the final minute of the half, things got even better for Gatland's team as a Conor Murray box-kick out on the full, James Ryan knock on in the tackle and another scrum penalty offered Anscombe another chance off the tee, which he took for a 16-0 half-time lead.
For Ireland to get back into things a fast start to the second period was required, but it was Wales who would score first on 49 minutes when a Healy penalty presented Anscombe another very kickable penalty, which he slotted over for an insurmountable 19-0 advantage.
That lead became 22-0 when yet another Ireland penalty in a central position of the pitch in their own half - the visitors' 10th of the Test - saw Anscombe land his fifth three-pointer of the afternoon.
Anscombe stretched that to 25-0 in the 69th minute, again from a central position in the Ireland half, when replacement Andrew Porter went off feet.
Ireland did finally notch their first points of the Test in the very final play of the match when replacement Jordan Larmour danced over for a try after a Stockdale break had been stopped just short.
But that did nothing to stop the Welsh party, with the home support in full voice, producing renditions of Bread of Heaven, Delilah and Land of my Fathers before skipper Alun Wyn Jones stepped up to lift the trophy.
Hats off to Wales and to Gatland. He may not be universally liked, he may not be truly respected - media coverage in New Zealand during the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour illuminated that pretty clearly - but you cannot sniff at his achievements.
To have clinched four championships, and - more impressively - three Grand Slams in his 11 campaigns at the helm (he didn't manage Wales during 2017), is fantastic.
To put that into perspective, Ireland have won three Grand Slams in their entire history.
Once again on Saturday, it was the fitness, discipline, tackling and physicality of Wales which saw them to a super victory.
Gatland heads off after the World Cup - but he's left a lasting impression on Welsh rugby. As one supporter's plaque read in the crowd at the end, it's been 'Gat-tastic'.
For Ireland, it was a sorry end to their championship and to the Six Nations reign of departing coach Schmidt.
The men in green show little signs of emerging from their slumber, and in a World Cup year, that must be an immense concern.
So long famed for their near monotonous accuracy, Ireland are currently riddled with errors each time they take the pitch.
On Saturday, their scrum was penalised like never before, their lineout malfunctioned, Sexton and Murray both kicked out on the full, and once again, nothing seemed to click.
The World Cup will present a fresh, clean slate. But, taking Ireland at face value on Saturday's performance, and over the past seven weeks, they appear to need quite a lot of work to get to where they need to be.