Jumping for joy: David Wallace supported by Keith Earls and Jamie Heaslip leave Lee Byrne of Wales in their wake during Ireland's win at Croke Park yesterday

EVEN at the end of this championship, Wales will still have twice as many Grand Slams as Ireland to show for the post-Woodward era but this game confirmed just how definitively Ireland have been by a distance the most consistent, durable and best side among the home nations since Martin Johnson lifted the World Cup that November night in 2003.

Next week Ireland should win their fifth Triple Crown in those seven years, the Welsh stuck on two. Whatever about 27-12 being a fitting scoreline yesterday, a Triple Crown count of 5-2 about sums up Ireland's superiority.

That said, while Ireland's play was poised throughout, Wales probably if marginally played the better rugby in the opening quarter. They kept the ball away from the Irish forwards at their restarts, moved the ball at pace going forward with Bradley Davis regularly breaking the gainline. In the 10th minute they opened the game's scoring when Jonathon Sexton, only minutes after missing a scoreable penalty himself, gifted Stephen Jones one after the Irish out-half was penalised for not rolling away after making a fine tackle.

The game would hinge, however, on a couple of turning points early in the second quarter. Gordon D'Arcy had to hobble off after sustaining a leg injury tackling Jamie Roberts, prompting Declan Kidney to introduce Robert Kearney at full-back and switch Geordan Murphy to the wing and Keith Earls to the centre.

All that happened there though was Ireland lost their first-choice inside centre. A couple of minutes later Wales would lose their discipline. Lee Byrne was rightly sin-binned for cynically stopping Tomás O'Leary from taking a quick penalty by slapping the ball away, and Ireland would brilliantly exploit the gaps left by his absence.

O'Leary was particularly prominent and brilliant during that power play. Indeed if this game was a coronation of sorts for Brian O'Driscoll it was sweet vindication for the Youghal man and for Kidney in keeping faith in his scrum-half. In the 27th minute, without Byrne there to interfere with him, O'Leary took another quick penalty, this time five metres from the tryline, and after quick hands from the totemic figures of O'Connell and O'Driscoll, Earls ran through from his new position to take O'Connell's offload and steam over the line.

Three minutes later Sexton was lining up another conversion. The Irish lineout had been magnificent throughout and after Rory Best had once again picked out Donncha O'Callaghan, the Cork man worked the ball to O'Connell. O'Connell in turn drove the ball from the back of the ruck before offloading to the onrushing O'Leary. The makeshift Welsh full-back James Hook was helpless in trying to prevent him from touching down for another try.

About the only downside of that spell for Ireland was that they scored only 10 points in as many minutes instead of 14; Sexton missed both conversions, the first a gimme coming back off the posts.

To give the Welsh credit, they would come at Ireland in waves upon Byrne's return to the action. But each time they would be stemmed. One onslaught just before half-time would result in a penalty, but after calculating the odds of actually breaching the Irish line, Stephen Jones elected to take his three points and leave the score 16-6 at the interval.

In the second half they would continue to take the game to Ireland and continue to run into a green brick wall, with Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip, O'Connell and John Hayes simply immovable. O'Driscoll too typically personified that team and work ethic, putting in one particularly memorable and ferocious hit on his Lions partner Roberts.

In fact for all Wales' possession and bluster, they lacked the panache and penetration of two years ago. Instead Ireland possessed such qualities and in the 63rd minute they were over for another try.

The scene featured the same characters that were there for the first couple of tries. Again it started with a lineout, Best again finding O'Callaghan, before O'Leary passed off to Earls. Earls was in midfield when he gained possession but a blistering diagonal run ended with him touching down in the corner to put Ireland 24-9 up and end the game as a contest.

Jones would score another penalty but fittingly it would be cancelled out three minutes from time by a drop-goal from Sexton, who for all his difficulties from the dead ball had a fine game with the ball in hand.

There's a lot to be said for sticking with him. O'Leary's redemption shows that.

Scoring sequence

9 mins Jones pen, 0-3 17 mins Sexton pen, 3-3 23 mins Sexton pen, 6-3 26 mins Earls try, 11-3 30 mins O'Leary try, 16-3 37 mins Jones pen, 16-6 51 mins Sexton pen, 19-6 54 mins Jones pen, 19-9 59 mins Earls try, 24-9 63 mins Jones pen, 24-12 76 mins Sexton drp-gl, 27-12