JOE Schmidt’s final Six Nations game in charge of Ireland ended in a harrowing defeat as Wales secured Grand Slam glory with a crushing 25-7 victory in Cardiff.
After controversially demanding the Principality Stadium roof remain open it was Ireland who suffered as they were overtaken in the world rankings by Warren Gatland’s side who shot up to second place. This was further evidence of Ireland’s slide since their famous victory over the All Blacks last November as they were taken to the cleaners in the Welsh capital.
An early try from Hadleigh Parkes and a 20-point haul from man of the match Gareth Anscombe forced Ireland to surrender their European crown.
Ireland made the worst possible start when they allowed Jacob Stockdale to be bundled into touch by opposite number George North directly from the kick-off. Wales took a clean line-out with their maul edging into Ireland 22.
Gatland’s hosts were awarded a penalty but instead of taking an easy three points, Anscombe decided to drop the ball onto the outside of his boot with Parkes gathering to score.
Almost immediately after scoring Parkes was forced to show his defensive qualities when Johnny Sexton picked out Stockdale with a well-weighted cross kick. The Ulsterman fended off Gareth Davies to gallop towards the try line, but a last-gasp tackle from Parkes prevented a certain try.
Wales were dealt a setback when predatory finisher North was forced off the field with a wrist injury. He was replaced by Dan Biggar with Liam Williams switching to the wing and Anscombe to full-back.
The visitors found themselves under siege as the Welsh forwards attempted to smash their way over the try line, but after a period of sustained pressure, former Scarlets man Tadhg Beirne crucially pinched the ball at the breakdown to take the pressure off Schmidt’ side.
Anscombe extended Wales’ lead to 10 points with a successful penalty attempt from 45 metres out on the angle.
Ireland then turned down the easy option of three to go for the corner. With the Irish maul ominously edging towards the line, giant lock Adam Beard managed to swim through the middle to hold up the visiting pack and regain possession for Wales.
After weathering the Irish storm, Wales were awarded a scrum inside the visiting half with Rob Evans giving Tadhg Furlong a torrid time to earn a penalty which Anscombe turned into three points.
And the visitors turned around 16-0 behind at the interval as the Cardiff Blues out-half slotted another penalty.
The Welsh pack were in complete control and Ireland’s forwards began to show their frustration with Cian Healey gifting Anscombe another three points after coming in from the side.
Anscombe nudged Wales into an unassailable 22-0 lead after CJ Stander was penalised for not rolling away. Ireland huffed and puffed as they tried to batter their way through their Celtic cousins, but they were repelled by a wall of red.
A stunning break from Josh Adams allowed Anscombe to nail a further three points and although Ireland grabbed a consolation try as Jordan Larmour touched down in the final play of the game with Jack Carty converting, they were blown away.
WALES: L Williams; G North (D Biggar 9), J Davies, H Parkes (O Watkin 71), J Adams; G Anscombe, G Davies (A Davies 57); R Evans (N Smith 54), K Owens (E Dee 61), T Francis (D Lewis 54), A Beard (J Ball 71), A W Jones, J Navidi, J Tipuric, R Moriarty (A Wainwright 71).
IRELAND: R Kearney (J Larmour 65); K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carty 72), C Murray (K Marmion 67); C Healey (D Kilcoyne 59), R Best (N Scannell 65), T Furlong (A Porter 65), J Ryan, T Beirne (Q Roux 59) P O’Mahony, S O’Brien (J Conan 52), CJ Stander
Tries: H Parkes 2
Conversions: G Anscombe 3
Penalties: G Anscombe 18, 36, 40, 49, 54, 70
Tries: J Larmour 80
Conversions: J Carty 81