By Owain Jones
In a nutshell
IRELAND ENTERED the Millennium Stadium with confidence and a resolve to give Brian O’Driscoll, a win on what could be his final encounter in Cardiff. They didn’t disappoint. Ireland went on to dominate the first half, racing to a 20-0 lead within the first half-hour. First O’Driscoll – who else? – found space to put Simon Zebo in for his debut Six Nations try and then Dan Biggar was charged down by Rory Best and in the resulting attack, Cian Healy crashed over from distance, helped by some Zebo ball-skills. Wales couldn’t find any rhythm, throwing misplaced passes, losing their own lineouts and being turned over and had only a Leigh Halfpenny penalty on the scoreboard at the break.
The second half started as the first with Brian O’Driscoll when, replete with Seventies-style headband, burrowed over. Wales were looking at a record defeat, so abandoned caution and introduced Justin Tipuric after 45 minutes. His introduction was the catalyst to a gung-ho Wales rearguard action as they dominated the second-half. First Alex Cuthbert scythed through the Ireland defence to score. Then after more concerted Wales pressure, with Best in the bin for repeated infringements, Halfpenny went over in the corner to reduce the Irish lead to 15 points. The last fifteen minutes saw Wales repeatedly hammer the Irish line, first Toby Faletau failed to ground the ball off the post and Jonathan Davies butchered a try-scoring chance. Finally, with Conor Murray off the field, Craig Mitchell, on for Adam Jones, dotted down to leave Wales 30-22 down and out.
After 10 minutes, with the game scoreless and Ireland camped in the Welsh half, Johnny Sexton released Brian O’Driscoll. O’Driscoll didn’t take contact. He showed his experience, first using his pace to jink outside Jonathan Davies, and then vision to release Simon Zebo with a sumptuous weighted pass. Zebo did the rest, rounding a floundering Alex Cuthbert to dot down in Sexton’s range. It was the worst possible start for Wales and set the tone for the first-half procession from the visitors.
Star man: Brian O’Driscoll
After scoring a try, O’Driscoll spent the majority of the second-half on the back foot, throwing himself into tackles. Hell, he even offered a brief cameo as a scrum-half in Murray’s absence. However, it was in the first half that O’Driscoll showed his experience, leadership and undoubted genius. His sublime handling skills, for Zebo’s try, in front of the watching Warren Gatland, will have been duly noted. Old father time may soon sound the chimes on the 34-year-old’s stellar career, but neutrals will hope BOD – replace the B with G and you’ll get an idea of how he’s revered in Ireland – will hang around a little longer. When he does finally hang up his boots, he will fully deserve his place among the pantheon of world greats, in any generation.
Brian O’Driscoll: Had a pretty good day, all things considered. With the Lions just four months away, it seems the old master wants to bow out on the very highest stage.
Simon Zebo: The Munster speedster showed finishing prowess with his first try and footballing skills that wouldn’t look out of place on the Copa Copana for the second. Looks very comfortable on international stage
Leigh Halfpenny: Okay, he ended up on the losing side, but a poacher’s try, strong kicking performance and usual derring-do saw him come away with immense credit
Justin Tipuric: Adorned with his bright blue scrum cap, Tipuric was not hard to miss and he gave his best whirling dervish impression, hitting rucks with zeal, carrying with agression and giving the Irish players a troublesome last 35 minutes.
Jonathan Davies: It was not one of the midfielders better days. Misplaced passes and a butchered a try-scoring opportunity blotted the copybook of one of this season’s best centres. You don’t imagine he will sleep well, but has more than enough class to come back.
Dan Biggar: Earning his 12th cap and his first Six Nations start, Biggar thoroughly deserved his chance at fly-half after his consistent form for the Ospreys, but a frustrating day was summed up with his charge down in the 22nd minute for Cian Healy’s try.
Wales assistant coach, Shaun Edwards: “That man O’Driscoll was the difference between the two teams. I wish someone had left him in Ireland!”
Toby Faletau made the most carries with 19, with Andrew Coombs close behind on 17. Sean O’Brien was Ireland’s top carrier with 12
George North ran farthest, making 92 metres, Toby Faletau was second with 66 metres made. Craig Gilroy was Ireland’s most incisive carrier with 52 metres
Sean O’Brien was the games top tackler with 23 tackles, both Mike McCarthy and Donnacha Ryan made 18 tackles. Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau were Wales’ best with 11 tackles each.
Tries: Cuthbert, Halfpenny, Mitchell
Pens: Halfpenny (1). Cons: Halfpenny (2)
Tries: Simon Zebo, Cian Healy, Brian O’Driscoll,
Pens: Jonny Sexton (3). Cons Jonny Sexton (3)