By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
In a nutshell
Undoubtedly the game of the Six Nations to date – though that doesn’t do this match justice after what Scotland and England offered up yesterday! A fiercely contested game with both Ireland and Wales showing huge intent to play rugby, keeping ball in hand and working the phases. The lead changed hands six times but it was Wales who demonstrated the classier attacking moves, Rhys Priestland bringing his back-line onto the ball at pace and mixing up the point of attack as his team ran in three tries. The two Irish tries came from patient phase play that stretched the Welsh defence and allowed Ireland to find space out wide. Bradley Davies was sin-binned for a dangerous tip tackle on Donnacha Ryan and is likely to be cited, but it was a similar offence by Stephen Ferris that gave Leigh Halfpenny the chance to kick the winning three points, which he duly did.
In the 80th minute, after both sides had scored tries with Bradley Davies in the sin-bin, Wales demonstrated patience as they worked the ball from their own 22 into Ireland’s half and referee Wayne Barnes awarded a hugely significant penalty as Stephen Ferris upended Ian Evans and was yellow-carded. Leigh Halfpenny, cool as the proverbial cucumber, stepped up to nail the kick and hand Wales victory.
Star man – George North
Wales’ young wing yet again proved what a talent he is. He may still be a teenager but his 6ft-plus physique makes him difficult to stop, as he demonstrated when scoring Wales’ third try by driving through two defenders. He also showed great skills with his feet and hands – a one-handed, back-handed offload setting up Jonathan Davies for his second try. Looking forward to seeing more of North for years to come – I could watch this guy all day.
Room for improvement
Wales must look at their lineout – Ireland were able to steal four throws – and they might want to look at Leigh Halfpenny kicking for goal from the off after Rhys Priestland’s misses cost them seven points. Leave Priestland to concentrate on running the attack.
Ireland desperately missed Brian O’Driscoll with Gordon D’Arcy and Fergus McFadden failing to make much impact in attack. This, in turn, meant Ireland’s back three didn’t get much quality ball. They must find a Plan B, too, for when their back row isn’t able to make its usual inroads.
Both sides need to look at their discipline – giving away needless penalties as well as yellow cards – and must be more purposeful with their kicking game. A few kicks here were too easy for the opposition to deal with and the chases wasn’t up to scratch either.
Wales coach Warren Gatland: “We’ve been a bit unlucky in the past, losing games in the last few minutes. Here we were reasonably lucky. We didn’t play as well as we can; I think we only showed 70% of what we’re capable of doing – when we get it right…”
Ireland coach Declan Kidney: ”It is extremely disappointing. We had a lead early in the second half but we did not build on it. When we do press ahead we have to go for the jugular. We are going to have to look at being more ruthless.”
Wales completed 201 passes compared to Ireland’s 153 and passed from rucks 90 times (Ireland did that 58 times) – showing their keenness to keep the ball in hand and build phases.
Ireland made twice as many offloads out of the tackle as Wales – six to three – and made 127 tackles compared to Wales’ 94.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Jonathan Sexton (Ronan O’Gara 77), Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan 77); Cian Healy (Tom Court 74), Rory Best, Mike Ross, Donncha O’Callaghan (Donnacha Ryan 63), Paul O’Connell (captain), Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Try: Best, Bowe.
Pen: Sexton 3.
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert (James Hook h-t), Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Rhys Gill, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones (Paul James 70), Bradley Davies, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Sam Warburton (captain, Justin Tipuric h-t), Toby Faletau.
Try: J Davies 2, North.
Pen: Halfpenny 2.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)