15. Rob Kearney: 9
His aerial duel with Leigh Halfpenny more than lived up to expectations – it was literally impossible to separate them at one contest, but the Leinster fullback had the edge overall in a virtuoso performance including one charged down kick.
14. Andrew Trimble: 8.5
Trimble’s exemplary kick chase was a feature of the first forty minutes, but the Ulster wing also excelled elsewhere. One early hit on George North capped a solid defensive display and a weaving run showed the Aviva crowd that he’s not just a bosh merchant.
13. Brian O’Driscoll: 8
Irish fans feared that a borderline Scott Williams tackle might end his game prematurely, but O’Driscoll recovered and aside from one missed tackle on Roberts put in a fine performance on his 130th cap.
12. Gordon D’Arcy: 8.5
Wales’ midfield runners made little headway against the experienced Irish pair, D’Arcy and O’Driscoll combining to effectively nullify that threat. The jinking inside centre justified Joe Schmidt’s decision to recall him to the starting XV.
11. Dave Kearney: 8
Both Irish wingers put their Welsh counterparts in the shade somewhat; Kearney fought for every inch when he carried ball, despite limited space, and also played his part in the aerial pursuit.
10. Jonathan Sexton: 9
A tactical masterclass from Sexton, his wonderfully varied kicking game keeping Wales pinned back, and he also chipped in with eight tackles to help combat the Welsh threat in midfield. He definitely thrives on the quicker pace of the game coming back from the Top 14.
9. Conor Murray: 9.5
Murray was given a relatively easy ride by a dominant pack, but his passing was slick and there were a few snipes around the fringes which almost broke the Welsh line. Better than Phillips in every respect, his box kicking kept the Wales’ back three honest and his awareness of space put Jackson in unopposed.
1. Cian Healy: 8.5
Visibly exhausted when he made way for Jack McGrath, his raw strength is a regular feature of Ireland games but accuracy is coming with it now. Neither side really dominated the scrum, but Healy was a powerful force in the match winning rolling maul which Ireland used to great effect.
2. Rory Best: 8
He was asked afterwards if there was an unspoken pact to get a positive result for O’Driscoll, but Best should also take huge personal satisfaction in his own performance facing Lions hooker Richard Hibbard. Without a rock solid and accurate set piece – 94% of lineouts hit their target – the devastating rolling maul could not have been possible.
3. Mike Ross: 7.5
Wayne Barnes interpretation at scrum time contributed to a messy set piece but Ross still held his side of the scrum up for the most part until Martin Moore entered the fray before the hour mark.
4. Devin Toner: 8
Again Ireland’s most prominent lineout jumper, Toner helped to put pressure on Welsh possession, stealing one crucial throw without even leaving the ground. His slick transition from the catch to set up the driving maul was key to Henry’s try in the first half.
5. Paul O’Connell: 8
Replaced by Dan Tuohy after 54 minutes, still feeling the ill effects of that chest infection which ruled him out last week, but not before the captain had a significant impact on proceedings. O’Connell set the standard with a crunching hit early on and was a constant threat at the front of the lineout as well as a driving force in Ireland’s maul.
6. Peter O’Mahony: 9.5
The Munster captain is rightly receiving praise for a monumental display. O’Mahony bossed the breakdown, winning four turnovers outright and disrupting Wales in possession at every given opportunity. Another useful option in the lineout, he even showed some nice football skills with a drilled grubber in the second half. His passion and hunger were undeniable from the beginning, Warburton and Lydiate were outclassed.
7. Chris Henry: 8.5
Henry continues to wreck havoc on opposition ball, and deservedly scored his first test try from a perfectly executed rolling maul in the first half. His eleven tackles, in a tireless display, was bettered only by Jamie Heaslip. Sean O’… who?
8. Jamie Heaslip: 8.5
Mr consistent topped the tackle count, with twelve in total, and gave another unfussy performance, taking the lead in the pack after O’Connell had left the field. Faletau wasn’t quite played off the park but it was certainly Heaslip’s day in the battle between two excellent number eights.
For the second week running Joe Schmidt made superb use of his bench, the introduction of Martin Moore gave Ireland an advantage at scrum time while Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin were typically busy in the loose. In fact, the only negative on a really encouraging day for Irish rugby was lock Dan Tuohy’s suspected fractured arm, suffered only minutes after replacing O’Connell.
Fergus McFadden continued where Andrew Trimble had left off competing for everything in the air as Ireland continued to pressurise the Welsh back three. The game finished with Ireland in the ascendancy as they had been for the entire eighty minutes, another huge driving maul sucking in the Welsh defence and allowing replacement Paddy Jackson to run in his first international try.
By David Blair (@viscount_dave)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images