Wales 25
Ireland 7

It was a moment of silence before the blockbuster clash between Wales and Ireland that reminded fans there are more important things in life than rugby.

The packed crowd at the Principality Stadium fell silent as they paid their respects to the victims of the tragic shooting thousands of miles away in Christchurch.

It would have been an emotional 48 hours for New Zealand coach Warren Gatland, but he certainly didn't let it affect his side's performance as they saved their best for last, sealing the grand slam with a comprehensive victory over a ragged Ireland, giving the Kiwi the perfect send-off.


There is still a question mark as to whether this will be his final ever Six Nations match, but there is no longer any disputing his status as Wales' greatest coach. His tally of three Grand Slams is the most in history and matches the haul during what was supposed to be Wales' golden period in the 1970s. No-one is pretending this is their most talented group of players ever, but Gatland has moulded a team in his own image: uncompromising, relentless and utterly ruthless.

What was supposed to be a tight, unbearably tense affair turned into an utter procession for Wales. Taking the lead inside two minutes through Hadleigh Parkes' cleverly-worked try, they maintained a vice-like grip on the game through their suffocating defence and astute kicking game, encapsulated by Gareth Anscombe's 20-point haul with the boot.

Ireland imploded under the pressure. Entering this year's Guinness Six Nations Championship as defending champions, and many observers' favourites for the World Cup, Ireland endured their worst performance of the Joe Schmidt era. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Half-backs Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray kicked out on the full, the lineout malfunctioned, and 11 penalties were conceded.

Ireland's Conor Murray, gets the ball away from a scrum during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Wales and Ireland at the Millennium stadium. Photo / AP
Ireland's Conor Murray, gets the ball away from a scrum during the Six Nations international rugby union match between Wales and Ireland at the Millennium stadium. Photo / AP

It certainly was not the sign-off that Schmidt envisaged in his own final Six Nations game in charge and now the New Zealander faces a mammoth task to rebuild this team's shattered confidence before Japan. The Guinness on St Patrick's weekend may taste slightly flat in Dublin. The 275,000-strong party in Cardiff, meanwhile, promises to be a lively affair.

Yet make no mistake: Ireland's mistakes did not happen in isolation, but because of Wales' pressure exerted by Shaun Edwards' defence. When the clock went red, Wales were nilling a team that had scored at least 20 points in their past eight Six Nations game before Jordan Larmour snuck a consolation. Edwards, too, will leave a mammoth legacy.

It was not always pretty in relentless rain, but for all the fuss about keeping the Principality Stadium roof open, it was Wales who adapted far better to the conditions. Alun Wyn Jones was indefatigable as ever, Josh Navidi tackled himself to a standstill, Ken Owens charged and charged again, while Parkes might just be the most improved player in the northern hemisphere.

It is doubtful that Gatland could have dreamt of a better start. From Anscombe's kick-off, George North put Jacob Stockdale into touch deep inside Ireland's 22. The maul made ground before Owens broke off. With Ireland defending flat, Anscombe delivered the cutest of chips with the outside of his boot for Parkes to collect ahead of the covering Rob Kearney. There were 70 seconds on the clock and, minus the green contingent, 70-odd thousand screaming themselves hoarse.

Having scored one try, Parkes promptly saved another. Spotting the injured North's absence on the left wing, Sexton kicked a penalty crossfield to Stockdale. The wing brushed off Gareth Davies but the unlikely figure of Parkes hauled the speedster down, forcing a knock-on.

Ireland's frustrations would only mount from there. Rory Best was off cue with a lineout throw while an over-zealous clearout by Sexton allowed Anscombe to nudge Wales 10-0 ahead. Worse was to come as first a combination of Adam Beard and Justin Tipuric turned over an Irish maul inside the 22 and then CJ Stander took a tap penalty and succeeded only in kicking it into his own player.

For all their struggles, the game was still within their grasp towards the end of half. Yet their faint hopes were soon washed away in what was becoming torrential rain as Anscombe first captialised on a Tadhg Furlong offside, and then, most painfully, a scrum penalty on halftime to extend Wales' advantage to an imposing 16-0.

That was the same deficit that Wales overturned on the opening night against France, but there was no danger of Ireland repeating that feat. Their mistakes continued to proliferate as Sexton kicked out on the full before Cian Healy was somewhat harshly penalised for a breakdown clearout, allowing Anscombe to kick his fourth penalty. From the restart, Sexton – The World Rugby Player of the Year remember – kicked the ball dead.

The party in the stand was in full swing as Anscombe kicked Wales three scores ahead after Stander failed to roll away.

Even with the game completely settled, Wales refused to take their foot off Ireland's throats. The way they defended their try line in the final 10 minutes, you would have sworn the Championship was hanging in the balance. It took until the third minute of added time for Ireland to avoid being 'nilled' through Larmour's try, but that was scant consolation. Their reign as champions and Europe's leading light is over. This is Wales' time.