It was the passage of play that sent the Millennium Stadium into raptures and helped turn the Six Nations Championship on its head. We analyse an iconic defensive set from Wales
On Saturday in Cardiff, the media sniping – margarine comparisons and everything – subsided for 80 minutes and some rugby broke out. Incredibly, an emotionally draining Test match lived up to an enormous amount of hype.
Its outcome, a 23-16 victory for Wales, has turned the Six Nations Championship. Its defining passage, a seven and a half-minute period between two penalty decisions, was truly iconic.
After Wales lock Luke Charteris conceded a penalty for failing to retreat from an offside position as Rhys Webb box-kicked, the hosts went about earning a mighty roar from an enraptured Millennium Stadium.
Here is a phases-by-phase run-down of how Wales repelled Ireland.
Phase one: Just beyond the Wales 10-metre line, Rory Best throws the lineout to the back. He finds Peter O’Mahony, who feeds Munster colleague Conor Murray.
The ball is whipped left to Johnny Sexton and Jared Payne trucks it up, where he is met by Dan Biggar, Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton:
The latter pair hold the ball above the ground for a second, slowing down the attack. Meanwhile, Biggar shows fantastic discipline. Attempting to roll away, he stops on realising he might block the next pass.
Desperate not to concede a penalty, he stays as low as possible.
“That’s perfect. Thank you, mate,” says Wayne Barnes.
Phase two: As Murray heads the same way, Robbie Henshaw hits an out-to-in angle and is felled by Taulupe Faletau.
Phase three: Jamie Heaslip comes from depth at pace, but replacement Rob Evans stands firm.
Phase four: Murray dummies, darts and makes three metres but is enveloped by Charteris and Warburton.
Phase five: O’Mahony makes use of the quick ruck ball and sends Jack McGrath up. Faletau drops him.
Phase six: Murray is back on his feet and brings play back to the right, Paul O’Connell taken low by Warburton.
Phase seven: Now the backs have a turn, Sexton conducting a wrap-around with Payne. The return pass drops to the floor but Rob Kearney can steam into the line:
Leaving his man Tommy Bowe and stepping in, Biggar bravely puts his body on the line before Jamie Roberts completes the tackle.
Phase eight: Murray skirts across to go left into midfield, where Heaslip is shackled by Aaron Jarvis and Charteris.
Phase nine: The ball is slow but Sexton sends a charging O’Connell over the 22 as the Ireland skipper’s line leaves Warburton flat-footed.
Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny, tremendous all day, scramble back to cover:
Phase 10: Sexton shows inside and forges ahead. Faletau and Warburton are alert, though.
Phase 11: McGrath barrels on to within 10 metres. Jonathan Davies and George North greet him.
Phase 12: Sean O’Brien gets hold of it now as Ireland move it right, and is shoved on by O’Connell. Lydiate falls by the wayside so Evans and Warburton must finish the job.
Phase 13: Fives metres short, O’Mahony steps past Jarvis. However, Lydiate and Scott Baldwin mop up.
Phase 14: Murray sends Heaslip forward. Halfpenny is equal to the task, with a bit of help from Charteris.
Phase 15: Sexton is in the game again, switching with Henshaw. Faletau wraps around the Connacht man’s thighs:
Phase 16: Payne goose-steps on another run off Murray. There is no way past Biggar and Roberts.
Phase 17: Sexton slices around to the right. Baldwin collars the first receiver on the five-metre line.
Phase 18: Murray goes left again. O’Mahony gets dragged down by Lydiate.
Phase 19: Best is next to knock on the door, but Warburton hits him five metres behind the gain-line and wins the collision.
Phase 20: Devin Toner pops to lock partner O’Connell. Fellow British and Irish Lion Davies is on the scene.
Phase 21: McGrath maintains Ireland’s right-to-left movement. Webb makes a nuisance of himself.
Phase 22: Ireland change tack, O’Connell setting up a maul flanked by Henshaw and Toner. Mike Ross and O’Mahony latch on to gain some momentum:
Jarvis and Baldwin spoil things by dragging down O’Connell, the initial carrier. The ball is forced to ground. Wales have time to regroup.
Phase 23: Warburton and Lydiate combine to halt Heaslip.
Phase 24: O’Mahony builds up speed but Charteris does not bounce off.
Phase 25: Around 10 metres from the right touchline, Murray spins infield to McGrath. Baldwin dives in.
Phase 26: A rare two-pass movement now, Sexton transferring to Heaslip. Lydiate plays lumberjack.
Phase 27: Murray finds Sexton on the left again, and Henshaw cuts back in. Webb is the obstacle on this occasion. He does not give an inch.
Phase 28: A switch of direction brings no joy for O’Brien, Warburton and Baldwin alert.
Phase 29: Heaslip pulls it back to Payne, but – crystalising Ireland’s odd lack of guile in this manic period – there is an ugly muddle as Simon Zebo hunts for the ball:
Roberts trips the Ireland wing before Liam Williams and Lydiate slow the breakdown.
Phase 30: Paul O’Connell is the carrier as Murray rewinds. Baldwin flies up, though.
Phase 31: Sexton looks to find O’Brien off his shoulder. Webb spots the openside from a mile away and suffocates the attack with Warburton supporting. Ireland are forced back over the 22.
Phase 32: Murray sees space on the right, slipping to Heaslip. Roberts and Charteris tangle in a mess of bodies.
Phase 33: Murray wraps O’Connell and Zebo juggles. Liam Williams and Baldwin do not fall for anything:
Williams scents Zebo may be isolated and plunges in over the ball. Referee Barnes judges that he has not released from the tackle. Ireland are awarded a penalty.
Phase 34: Kearney uses his left foot to put his team within around 12 metres. Toner climbs to take Best’s throw and Ireland maul:
The forwards rumble on before Murray brings it out. He snakes across-field, Henshaw flying into a decoy line with Bowe an out-the-back option.
The Ulster wing receives it but Roberts readjusts magnificently to make a phenomenal try-saver:
Phase 35: Murray burrows but collides with a red wall, Liam Williams the key brick.
Phase 36: Now O’Mahony, centimetres from the whitewash, gets no change out of Lydiate.
Phase 37: Henshaw play scrum-half but Best is barricaded by Biggar and Davies.
Phase 38: O’Brien positions himself at the base.
However, he is slow to react as the ball becomes exposed and Davies outfoxes him, dragging him back three metres:
Phase 39: Wales pile in on the counter-ruck so Sexton probes blind. Despite crossing the five-metre line, Heaslip cannot beat Webb.
Phase 40: O’Connell comes from deep once more. Biggar and Baldwin soak up the pace and power.
Phase 41: O’Brien offers himself on the same angle. Now Jarvis hunts a green shirt.
Phase 42: Warburton and Lydiate take more metres out of the attack, felling Heaslip.
Phase 43: Murray and Sexton stretch things left and Payne cuts back. Faletau hits the bootlaces and Charteris thunders in.
Phase 44: Resurgence. Murray and Henshaw put Zebo in space on the left touchline but North holds up his opposite man and Davies drives through:
Joe Schmidt’s men are now 15 metres from five points.
Phase 45: Murray sweeps back to feed Best on the right. Alun-Wyn Jones catapults across and Charteris does more man-handling.
Phase 46: Murray sniffs an opening left but McGrath discovers a fired-up Davies. Jarvis cleverly disrupts the ruck.
Phase 47: Ross rumbles onto the openside off slow ball. Evans and Charteris are on hand.
Phase 48: Mirroring that tactic, O’Connell meets rival totem Jones.
Phase 49: Sexton slides across the gain-line. Henshaw and Payne cut back, the latter selected to carry.
Faletau tackles the New Zealand-born centre while Warburton collides with Sexton. Ireland’s fly half flops back over onto the ruck and is penalised by Barnes for joining the breakdown illegally:
As the whistle sounds, the crowd erupts. Jones sinks to the turf in utter exhaustion. In the stands, Warren Gatland glances to the heavens. Attack extinguished. Extraordinary.