15. Rob Kearney – 7
The Welsh kicking game targeted the inexperienced Gilroy on the right wing, and Kearney struggled to get hands on the ball as a result. Characteristically safe under the high ball when required, but he’ll hope to make more of an impact next weekend.
14. Craig Gilroy – 7
No repeat of the headline grabbing debut against Argentina in November, but still managed to carry further than any other Irish back and put in a brace of huge tackles including one thumping hit on Leigh Halfpenny. Wales’ kicking game put Gilroy under pressure but he generally coped well, one or two dodgy kicks asides.
13. Brian O’Driscoll – 9
What can you say about the great man that hasn’t already been said this weekend and a million times before? If this is to be his last championship, he looks to determined to make sure it ends satisfactorily. His close range try after half-time put the game beyond Wales, and it was just rewards for Declan Kidneys former captain who had earlier set up Simon Zebo in the opening period with a perfectly weighted pass.
12. Gordon D’Arcy – 7
O’Driscoll’s long serving accomplice, the rejuvenated Gordon D’Arcy continued his good form before leaving the field prematurely in the second half. His recovery from a dip in form over the last couple of years means his availability will be a key factor in determining the outcome of next weekend’s crunch fixture against Stuart Lancaster’s England.
11. Simon Zebo – 8
Zebo was back on the wing after two outings at fullback in the autumn. He owes his try to the genius wearing 13 inside him, but played a significant role in the second Irish try, brilliantly flicking a slightly wayward pass with the back of his heel before gathering and recycling possession which led to Cian Healy barging over.
10. Jonny Sexton – 7
Paris-bound Jonny Sexton, or J10 as he is known in Ireland, pulled the strings during a high tempo first half, but had precious few opportunities to shine as Wales dominated possession and territory after the break. A hard tackling 10 is a valuable asset in the modern game, and Sexton weighed in with ten this weekend.
9. Connor Murray – 6
Like his half-back partner, forced on the defensive for long periods in the second half. Yellow carded when Ireland were under the cosh, but will have impressed the Lions selectors with a sniping performance against rival Mike Phillips before the interval.
1. Cian Healy – 8
Clinical as ever when he gets a sniff of the line, Healy brushed aside Mike Phillips’ attempted tackle to score Ireland’s second try on 24 minutes. Just as significant was his defensive work rate, for a prop to make 15 tackles represents a decent shift by anyone’s standards.
2. Rory Best – 9
The pick of the forwards – and did more than any player to boost their chances of becoming a Lion this summer. In fact, Best might already have secured his place on the tour such was his influence on the game. It was his charge down which led to Healy’s try, via the footballing trickery of Zebo, and his turnover before the break preventing a Welsh score which would have given them hope. Saw yellow as Ireland infringed repeatedly at the breakdown but an otherwise outstanding display.
3. Mike Ross – 6
Such is Ireland’s reliance on Ross in the tight-head position it was no surprise to see the Leinster prop substituted with victory almost secure and England providing a sterner test next weekend. He struggled to keep up with the pulsating tempo at times, making just one carry.
4. Mike McCarthy – 8
At the heart of the Irish defensive effort in the second-half alongside his second-row partner Ryan, making 18 tackles in total and missing none. McCarthy has been a revelation since establishing himself on the international stage.
5. Donnacha Ryan – 8
Like McCarthy, Ryan’s contribution in defence was immense. The Munster lock made every one of his 16 attempted tackles count, as the Irish pair fought against an untried but robust Welsh combination. Ryan secured the majority of Irish lineout calls.
6. Peter O’Mahony – 8
Carried more ball than any other Irish forward, three defenders beaten and 31 metres gained with ball in hand represents a powerful effort considering he was replaced early in the second period.
7. Sean O’Brien – 9
Returning to something like his best form, O’Brien carried the ball 12 times gaining 27 metres but it was his defensive qualities which were of real importance to Ireland. The Leinster back-row topped the tackle count with 23, missing only one in a terrific all-action performance.
8. Jamie Heaslip – 7
All eyes were on the newly appointed Irish captain. And while five carries – he passed on seven occasions – and only two metres gained is a poor return from your number 8, his 16 tackles made up for that to some extent. Heaslip will be judged on results though, and he will remember his first Six Nations victory as captain fondly for that reason alone.
Replacements – 6
Chris Henry replaced Peter O’Mahony with half an hour remaining, Sean O’Brien switching to the blindside position, and made every effort in the closing stages to steal ball with little success. The intention was right though. Gordon D’Arcy’s early withdrawal exposed Keith Earls’ defensive frailties which allowed Alex Cuthbert to power through the Irish midfield.
Eoin Reddan, Donnacha O’Callaghan, David Kilcoyne and Declan Fitzpatrick came on as Wales dominated the closing stages.
Ronan O’Gara and Sean Cronin were unused substitutes.
by David Blair (@Viscount_Dave)