Wales shrugged off the rain, wind and Ireland to win the Six Nations and complete the Grand Slam
CARDIFF, Wales — As Storm Gareth battered Cardiff, 'Storm Gareth Anscombe' was lashing Ireland at the Principality Stadium.
Both took a soaking on Saturday as Wales completed the Grand Slam to be crowned Six Nations champion.
Anscombe, perfect with his boot from far and wide in the pouring rain and swirling wind, kicked six penalties and hit a delicate chip to set up the only try for Wales as it thrashed the defending champion 25-7.
Victory earned Wales its first Six Nations title since 2013, and its first Grand Slam since 2012. After seeing his wet-weather game plan executed brilliantly, coach Warren Gatland deflected all praise to his players and staff.
"They deserve it. This group of players will run through a brick wall for you," he said. "I get such a buzz out of watching those guys go up and collect trophies and celebrate."
Gatland finished his 10th and last Six Nations with Wales by winning a fourth championship, and as the first coach to win three Grand Slams in the tournament's 136-year history. He's stepping down after the Rugby World Cup later this year, when he hopes to collect the biggest trophy yet.
"We're in a good position," he said.
The Welsh saved their best for last in the worst conditions. They harangued the Irish into misfires in the set-pieces and forced errors at the breakdowns. The visitors conceded eight penalties in a first half after which they trailed 16-0, too far back in the conditions — slippery ball, hostile stadium, fired-up home crowd — to mount a comeback. The Irish tried, but the Welsh were too confident.
"They were exceptional in the way they managed the game, their physicality," Gatland said. "They nullified a lot of Ireland's strengths in terms of scrums and lineouts and runners."
Wales made the perfect start with a lineout from kickoff, a couple of rucks, an Anscombe chip with the outside of his right foot, and Hadleigh Parkes catching and scoring after 69 seconds. Wales had liftoff.
Moments later, Parkes saved Wales. Ireland received a penalty outside its 22. Jonathan Sexton noticed Wales wing George North was busy receiving treatment on his bandaged left forearm. Sexton crosskicked for Jacob Stockdale, who charged down the touchline but was caught by Parkes 10 meters out and knocked on.
North walked off, Dan Biggar moved to flyhalf, Anscombe went to fullback, and Liam Williams switched to right wing. And the Welsh purred on.
Sexton was caught off his feet and Anscombe kicked a penalty, 40 meters out and hugging the right touchline, for 10-0.
Ireland tried to make a statement when it received a kickable penalty but went for an attacking lineout maul. But Wales spat it back and got the scrum put-in. Ireland didn't get as close to the tryline again for another 40 minutes.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones stole a throw-in from Ireland captain Rory Best and made 10 meters before forcing an offside penalty. Anscombe's second penalty, from 41 meters, made it 13-0.
Anscombe's third penalty in injury time, from another offside, put the home side virtually out of sight at the break.
Wales came from 16-0 down against France in Paris in the opening round, achieving the biggest comeback win since the tournament expanded in 2000. But Ireland on Saturday wasn't given a chance by a ruthless and unforgiving Wales.
The harder Ireland tried, the more mistakes it made. Anscombe kicked three more penalties, Wales led 25-0, and its national record 14th straight win was in the bag. But it couldn't quite close out the dying moments, and in injury time Ireland scored a consolation try through replacement fullback Jordan Larmour.
The Irish, Grand Slam winners last year when they were the last team to beat Wales, finished third, unable to reward their departing coach Joe Schmidt and captain Best.
Schmidt was philosophical. Ireland played better than it did in the opening loss to England, which threw its campaign off track. He also praised fellow New Zealander Gatland.
"I take my hat off to Gats," he said. "To do 12 years as an international coach ... I've done six and it's nearly killed me.
"You could see what (winning) meant to them. Hats off to Wales, a super effort. They know how to fight their way through to the finish."
They aren't quite finished with each other yet. Ireland will be back in Cardiff to play Wales in August in a World Cup warmup. And if, at the World Cup, they win their pools and quarterfinals, they could meet in the semis. If that happens, Ireland will be hoping it won't be played in a storm.
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