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Six Nations: Ireland begin in dominant fashion

Ireland put down an early marker in their quest for Six Nations 2023 glory with a commanding 34-10 victory against Wales at the Principality Stadium.

Andy Farrell's men were the pre-tournament favourites to win the Six Nations for the first time since 2018 but they did face a potentially tricky trip to Cardiff, where they lost 21-16 back in February 2021.

However, the world number one side put in a tremendous performance to silence a vociferous Welsh crowd that were hopeful Warren Gatland could bring the good times back to the country, but were ultimately disappointed.

First test passed with flying colours

The Principality Stadium has not been a happy hunting ground for Ireland in recent years, as they had won just one of their last four visits prior to Saturday's meeting, but Farrell's troops never looked in doubt to record a bonus-point victory.

In truth, it was a crushing first-half display that set the platform for the Irish, with tries from Caelan Doris, James Ryan and James Lowe - along with 12 points from the boot of Johnny Sexton - helping them establish a 27-3 lead at the break.

Liam Williams did respond with a try early in the second-half for Wales, but flanker Josh van der Flier crossed the whitewash for the visitors to secure the extra point and make it a happy start to the Six Nations.

This 34-10 result was Ireland's biggest Six Nations win in Cardiff since 2001 and they have certainly rubber-stamped their tag as the tournament favourites.

Keenan excels

While there were plenty of standout performances for Ireland, full-back Hugo Keenan received huge plaudits for his display and was named Player of the Match.

The 26-year-old was solid on both sides of the ball and he was impressed with how his team started off the tournament, telling BBC Sport: "We came out started really well which was really important having not won here for ten years.

"We probably slipped off a bit in the second half so there's still plenty to work on but we're delighted to get a bonus point and start the Six Nations with a win."

Great preparation for France assignment

Ireland's next clash will see them welcome defending champions France to the Aviva Stadium on 11th February and this victory over Wales is actually what Farrell would have been hoping for.

If Les Bleus defeat Italy on Sunday, which they are expected to do, the contest in Dublin will have even more riding on it as both sides try to pick up a win that will keep them on course for the Grand Slam.

Ireland, a 5/1 chance to win World Cup 2023, will be out for revenge against France, who triumphed at the Aviva Stadium 15-13 in the 2021 Six Nations, and this opening performance from Farrell's troops suggests they will have a good chance of setting the record straight.

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Work to be done for Wales

The big issue for Wales in this game was the fact they were not clinical with their scoring opportunities and this is an area Gatland will want to address as soon as possible.

Of course, they will have to get sharper in defence, but the scoreline could have been closer if they had not passed up the chances that they managed to carve out.

It was always going to be a tough assignment for Wales, as they welcomed the world number one side to Cardiff, and Gatland wasn't that downbeat at full-time.

"Strangely I'm not that disappointed," he told BBC Sport. "That's because a lot of things that were disappointing are things that we can fix. We spoke at half-time about discipline and line speed in defence and we brought that in the second half.

"We made a slow start, gave away penalties and Ireland created momentum off that."

Gatland conceded the gap between the two sides at the moment and insisted this is the step his side "need to take" to put themselves in a position to compete with the top teams.

Youngsters to be brought in

The big decision Gatland has ahead of the second match, which is a trip to Scotland on 11th February, is whether he gives the starting XV a chance to redeem themselves or makes changes.

In his previous spell as Wales boss, the 59-year-old always backed his players in the following game and presented them with a second chance, allowing them to right the wrongs from the previous defeat.

However, times have changed since his last spell in charge and the youngsters that came off the bench in the Irish loss have made a strong case to be starting against the Scots.

It will be interesting to see which way Gatland goes and, whichever way he does, is likely to set the stall out for his thinking during his second stint at the helm.

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