Joe McCarthy Ire pic
All-conquering Ireland field most questions asked of them with a combination of conviction and courage – their head coach Andy Farrell is no different.

Farrell’s opposite number Warren Gatland felt the 31-7 scoreline in Ireland’s favour failed to do justice to the efforts of his Wales team in Dublin on Saturday.

Asked if he agreed, Farrell wryly replied: “It probably should have been 44-7. We had some tries chalked off.”

Farrell has a penchant for adversity and he was presented with a new dilemma in his team selection this week: how to replace injured full-back Hugo Keenan.

A long-time regular and Farrell favourite, Keenan’s absence was perhaps a blessing, with Ireland offered a rare opportunity to find an able deputy against a winless Wales team firmly in transition.

Step forward Ciaran Frawley, a versatile back who has played most of his club rugby at 15 this season.

After an inconspicuous start he grew into the game and scored Ireland's third try to round off a job well done on his first start.

“He was solid enough,” said boss Farrell, who was also without another potential Keenan replacement in Jimmy O’Brien.

“A big day for him and Gats (Gatland) was saying all week they were going to test him.

“His skillset is sound and he is always solid under the high ball, has hands, and he communicates well as well. I suppose he will be glad that’s done now and he can build on it.”

More broadly, Ireland will want to build on this performance with two testing fixtures to come before they can call themselves the first team to have won back-to-back Grand Slams in the Guinness Men’s Six Nations.

They totally dominated the first half and Farrell felt they were worth more than the tries from Dan Sheehan and James Lowe and seven points from the boot of Jack Crowley.

“We wanted to be better today but the opposition always has a say in that,” he said.

“For the dominance we had in the scrum in the first half, I felt we could have had a bit of a better lead.”

Wales started the second half stronger and they too perhaps deserved more than just the penalty try, and yellow card for Tadhg Beirne, which arrived in their best spell of the game.

For a period, Wales were camped inside the Ireland 22 but the hosts held firm in spite of their numerical disadvantage and regained control upon the arrival of four forward replacements, before Frawley crossed for a nerve-settling third try.

There are cases to be made for and against a six-two bench split, but when your pack depth is as strong as Ireland’s, the reward overwhelmingly outweighs the risk.

Asked how important his bench was, Farrell said: “It was huge. They were always going to come on and add some power in the first place, when you bring a bit of power onto the field when others are a bit tired.

“For that ten minutes of the (Beirne) yellow card it was free flowing and people were sucking it in big time.

“They were always going to take advantage of that and the replacements got us back on the front foot. That’s the job, that’s what we expect of them.”

Less foreseen was the need to play Stuart McCloskey on the wing. It’s a role the Ulsterman has never previously filled for his country but one he executed well, helping to win the penalty which instigated the last-gasp bonus-point try from Beirne.

“It’s the new Stu! That was a fantastic impact, there were a few of those throughout the game,” said Farrell.

“He has been very comfortable training there through the week. Calvin Nash missed a session on Wednesday so he had a full session and an opportunity to fill his boots there and he did it seamlessly.

“With the six-two you need people to be excited about filling in in places they’ve not done before.

“Ideally you want him in the position he usually plays, but he was excited and we had full confidence in him there.”

And so Ireland continue their march towards an unprecedented double with a few fresh faces supplementing last year’s formidable cast.

The aforementioned Nash, fly-half Crowley and second row Joe McCarthy have stepped in flawlessly to a winning machine which has now tied the record for 11 straight Championship victories.

Prop Oli Jager also made his debut off the bench, the latest newcomer and one who looks readymade for the demands of Test rugby.

Ireland have enjoyed more convincing victories under Farrell but here he learned a great deal about his wider squad - another important box ticked in the pursuit of successive sweeps.

“It’s very pleasing (that players are coming in and taking their chances) but it is their responsibility to do that,” Farrell added.

“When they put the green shirt on it is their responsibility to fill it and that requires them to get to a place that is a bit strange to them and they need to know that is the standard.”