Match Report: Ireland v Wales
Wales came out on top in thrilling encounter on Sunday. 51,000 fans packed out the Aviva Stadium who were entertained with some great tries and drama until the very end.
This was the game that everyone was waiting for, after an expected French win over the Italians and the mistake-riddled English victory over the Scottish everybody turned to Dublin and the Aviva Stadium for their rugby fix on the weekend, and it did not disappoint.
The game was as close as it gets with the lead changing hands 5 times providing a thrilling spectacle for the neutral and a game that was destined to go down to the wire. However Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny held his nerve in the final minute and slotted the match-winning penalty; a penalty that would be routine in any other situation.
After an early Jonny Sexton penalty Wales enjoyed some early pressure and really dominated the first 25 minutes of the game with Mike Phillips, George North and Jamie Roberts all getting agonizingly close to crossing the whitewash. After 13 minutes Wales centre Jonathan Davies crossed over with a good finish out wide after some nifty footwork and a brilliant offload out of the tackle by Rhys Priestland.
Wales then continued to stretch the Irish but were failing to turn it into points. Ireland then made Wales pay on the stroke of half time, Irish wing Tommy Bowe got on the outside of Priestland leaving newcomer Alex Cuthbert wondering whether to step in or drift – in the end he did neither – and Bowe sent over hooker Rory Best from 10 metres out, Ireland went in ahead 10 – 5 at the break.
During halftime news came through that would have sent shivers down the spine of the majority of Welsh fans, Sam Warburton would not return for the second half, he suffered a dead leg during the first half and was unable to continue – on came Osprey Justin Tipuric. Also James Hook came on to replace debutant Alex Cuthbert who hadn’t really influenced play at all and looked vulnerable during the Irish try. At this point I feared without Captain Sam the Irish back row of Heaslip, Ferris and O’Brien would gain parity and then it would be a case of by how much Ireland would win.
Sexton slotted another penalty early on in the second half and it seemed as though the game was slipping away from Wales. Enter George North who sparked Wales in to life, on 53 minutes his sublime take from a Sexton high ball led to a Halfpenny penalty and Wales were beginning to find their feet. Then just a minute later off the top ball from a Wales line out, 40 metres out, Priestland slides the ball to North who launches at the Irish midfield, bulldozing through Fergus McFadden, North then finds Jonathan Davies with a lovely offload out of the tackle who sprints in from 35 metres, Wales back on track 13 – 15 – But would injured Brian O’Driscoll have missed that tackle on North…
Ireland responded quickly with another Penalty from Sexton 16-15 now – game on. Then disaster for Wales, second row Bradley Davies sees the red mist and is yellow carded for lifting Donnacha Ryan and dropping him to the floor during a ruck, lucky it wasn’t a red.
Tommy Bowe made the 1 man advantage count and goes over for a try in the corner, however Sexton fails to convert a tricky conversion, and then prods a penalty attempt wide 21 – 15 heading into the final 10.
In the 73rd minute North crossed over in the corner – taking 3 Irish defenders with him – a powerful finish, Halfpenny failed to convert leaving the scores 21-20. Then in the 80th minute Ferris gives away a penalty for a tip tackle on Ian Evans, in my opinion I think it is a penalty, the right side of Ian Evans is on it’s way to vertical when he hits the ground and I think it was justifiable. So up steps Halfpenny to slot the penalty and Wales come out on top in an epic encounter 21 - 23.
At halftime I felt that Wales were going to be made to pay for their inability to convert early pressure into points. I could sense Ireland coming into the game and there were glimpses when the Irish back row got an offloading game going that looked ominous.
Jamie Roberts did well in midfield but never really stood out, on the other hand when you’ve got George North running over people Roberts wasn’t really missed.
Out wide we had too much for them, as was expected the game would be ours if the forwards provided a platform and Ireland looked dangerous when that platform was wavering. Wales lost 4 lineouts which is a bit of a worry but Ireland are renowned for their work in that facet of the game.
The scrums remained solid throughout, after an early penalty on the Irish line given away by young Rhys Gill I did worry that he may be over-excited, but he seemed to calm down and had a good game.
When Tipuric came on at halftime he had an outstanding game, it definitely did not weaken Wales when he entered the fray. Faletau was outstanding again, carrying Wales across the gain line on numerous occasions. Ryan Jones was also impressive, the loss of Dan Lydiate was always going to be felt, but Jones stepped up and worked tirelessly in defence and also carried well.
Priestland had an average game by his recent standards, after starting superbly I think his misses from the tee may have knocked his confidence slightly, and he is a confidence player. I don’t worry about his form going into next weekend, and I feel he’ll put in a good performance.
Jonathan Davies had an excellent game going forward, he had the beating off Fergus McFadden from the start and never relented. Scoring both of Wales’ tries and proving to be a handful throughout the game he was key to Wales’ victory.
The extent of Warburton’s inury is still unclear, he will have a better idea about his fitness on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Bradley Davies is almost certain to be absent at the weekend. The citing commissioner for the game has until 5pm on Tuesday to make his decision. If he is cited Davies would then face a hearing later on in the week, a ban of 4 weeks or more is not out of the question – this could devastate Wales’ 6 Nations hopes with Alun Wyn-Jones and Luke Charteris already out injured. Dan Lydiate may be fit to welcome the Scots to Cardiff which would probably mean Ryan Jones would move up to second row to replace Davies.