Wales (8) 22
TRY: George North (2), Jamie Roberts. CON: Leigh Halfpenny (2). PEN: Leigh Halfpenny.
Ireland (6) 9
PEN: Johnny Sexton (2), Paddy Jackson.
Ireland’s Six Nations Championship hopes virtually disappeared on Friday night as Wales took their chances at the Principality Stadium to record a deserved win, scoring three tries to Ireland’s none.
A rampant George North caused the damage, crossing twice with Jamie Roberts also touching down to secure the game late in the second half. Leigh Halfpenny chipped in with two conversions and a penalty.
Ireland failed to cross the line legally in the eighty minutes, their only scores coming from the boots of Johnny Sexton and Paddy Jackson. Sexton landing two penalties and Jackson one though if Sexton could have come back on during his HIA to take Jackson’s penalty he would have.
Therein lies the problem for Ireland, everything had to go through Sexton and the Leinster maestro had a mixed bag as he tried to win the game singlehandedly. It just looks to me that Sexton’s doesn’t trust anyone to do anything but himself. Unfortunately his playbook has been well read by the Welsh who were able to adequately cover the Irish attacks.
Maybe a bit harsh on Sexton, but he does seem to get himself into these situations. However there were other problems, midfield inventiveness was zero, the wings were completely outmuscled in defence and Sean O’Brien spent most of the game playing for Italy as he argued with the referee about whether it was a ruck or a tackle.
Unfortunately though the biggest problem for Ireland was the line out and the three line outs lost cost Ireland dear. A seventy percent return is not acceptable in the professional game and our Rory must take some of the responsibility here.
The opening quarter was played at a frenetic pace as the teams got to grips with each other. Ireland came out on top in the initial exchanges to go into a 0 – 3 lead after Sexton landed a 7th minute penalty. Both teams know each other so well that chances were at a premium. Wales looked better with ball in hand and Ireland controlled the aerial battle though both playbooks had been well researched and the defences were well on top.
Big George North caught the eye, bouncing off the Irish defenders and the big winger got his just rewards at the end of the first quarter as he blasted through the flailing Zebo and Earls, following a magnificent pass from Rhys Webb, to score the opening try following a magnificent pass from Rhys Webb.
At this stage Sexton had departed for an HIA following a collision with Jonathan Davies’ knee and his temporary replacement put Ireland 5 – 6 in front with a penalty before Sexton returned.
The thrilling game continued to ebb and flow as the teams looked for an edge, the quality of play from both sides top notch as the relentless pace continued. However it was Ireland that were shipping he injuries and the last five minutes of the first half proved crucial. Connor Murray received an injury to his left arm, which eventually saw him depart early in the second half, before Sexton got binned for lying all over the ball in a Welsh attack
Leigh Halfpenny knocked over the resultant Penalty to put Wales 8 – 6 in front at the break and within minutes of the restart that man North crossed again to further extend the lead to 15 – 6 in Sexton’s absence.
Sexton’s return marked a change in momentum but Wales knew what was coming and defended the right areas despite shipping a high penalty count. Their disruption of the Irish line out was telling but Sexton landed another penalty as Ireland ramped up the pressure. A functioning line out led to Ireland’s best chance only for the oven enthusiastic Robbie Henshaw to deny them the score and really over enthusiasm in the wrong areas was the story of Ireland’s game.
Still ten minutes to go and six points between the teams, it was literally anyone’s game.
However, Sexton had the last say, though not as he imagined, his defensive clearance kick charged down for Jamie Roberts to gather and crash over near the posts. Halfpenny converted to give Wales a flattering but deserved 22 – 9 win.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner, CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion, Paddy Jackson, Tommy Bowe.