Reuters - Sat, 13 Mar 14:12:00 2010
Ireland, for whom captain Brian O'Driscoll won his 100th cap, capitalised on the silly first-half sin-binning of Wales fullback Lee Byrne with tries from scrumhalf Tomas O'Leary and Earls to earn a lead they never looked like losing.
A poor kicking display from Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton allowed the visitors to stay in touch, but Earls' third try in two games on the hour kept the strangely subdued Welsh at bay.
Champions Ireland need top-of-the-table France, whom they lost heavily to last month, to suffer an unlikely defeat against either Italy or England and make up ground on points difference to stand a chance of retaining the title.
"After the disappointment in France, it was a goal to win our remaining three games and that's still attainable," said O'Driscoll. "It's where we want to be, challenging for a triple crown and giving ourselves an outside bet of being in the hunt for a championship."
Should they get back in the hunt, Sexton, who also struggled from the kicking tee in an otherwise strong performance against England last time, may rue leaving so many points on the field.
The 24-year-old Leinster flyhalf missed his first penalty on four minutes before his more experienced opposite number Stephen Jones opened the scoring with an easier chance.
Sexton levelled but continued to mix the good with the bad, fluffing an up-and-under and nearly putting wing Tommy Bowe through with a neat pass before making it 6-3 with a penalty.
Ireland lost centre Gordon D'Arcy to injury five minutes later but more significantly Wales then lost Byrne to the sinbin for a needless infringement.
After a similar incident cost Wales badly in their opening day loss to England, Ireland wrestled control of the game just as decisively, scoring two tries while the fullback watched from the side.
Kicking deep into the hole left at the back, Earls was the beneficiary of a tap penalty, going over in the opposite corner.
Sexton missed the easy conversion and then another after man-of-the-match O'Leary scurried away from the back of a scrum to power over in the corner, handing Ireland a 16-6 halftime lead and Wales coach Warren Gatland a headache.
"The unfortunate thing and the most disappointing aspect is that we haven't learned our lesson from what happened against England. From a coaching point of view that is extremely frustrating," Gatland said.
After Ireland survived a series of Welsh scrums on their own line in the opening exchanges of the second half, Sexton made Jones regret his decision not to opt for goal with a close-range penalty by stretching the lead with one of his own.
Jones edged Wales back in touch with his third successful penalty but Munster wing Earls enhanced his growing reputation by striking again from the constantly lively O'Leary.
Wales, as poor in attack as defence, failed to trouble the Irish for the remaining 20 minutes and Sexton wiped out another Jones penalty with a finely taken drop goal just before the end.