CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Ireland justified its status as rugby’s top-ranked country and the team to beat in the Six Nations by using a strong start to run over Wales with a 34-10 bonus-point victory on Saturday, spoiling Warren Gatland’s first match since his return as coach.
The 2023 tournament’s first game was virtually over as a contest inside 30 minutes, by which time Ireland had crossed for almost-identical tries by forwards Caelan Doris and James Ryan — through close-range carries — and a breakaway score by winger James Lowe.
It gave the Irish a commanding lead — 27-3 — that they never looked like relinquishing under the roof at Principality Stadium despite a second-half rally by the Welsh that contained a converted 46th-minute try from Liam Williams.
Any chance of a close finish was ended by Williams getting a yellow card for an illegal tackle on Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton in the 65th. It was during the fullback’s absence that flanker Josh van der Flier, the reigning world player of the year, went over for a fourth try to secure a bonus point.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell wanted his players to experience — and savor — the white-hot occasion of a test match in Cardiff to prepare his team for what is to come in a Rugby World Cup year.
They passed the test with flying colors, befitting a team that won a test series in New Zealand last year and followed that up with a clean sweep of autumn victories over South Africa, Fiji and Australia.
The Welsh fans were quietened early by the flurry of soft Irish tries but were at least roused by a fightback that will have pleased Gatland, even if his team was ultimately outclassed.
More AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports