The winger's try helps Wales to Six Nations win after early Peter O'Mahony red card
Louis Rees-Zammit produces sensational finish against Ireland
Louis Rees-Zammit’s superb finish lit up an attritional Six Nations match in Cardiff.
The winger’s try helped Wales to a 21-16 triumph over Ireland as they returned to the Principality Stadium for the first time in nearly a year – and it was a dramatic contest despite the lack of fans.
There was a red card, a concerning number of head injuries, an international return cut short, a try-scoring corner dive and an extremely strange ending to a closely-fought Test match.
Let’s start at the beginning. The first quarter saw Wales flanker Dan Lydiate, who was playing his first Test since 2018, forced off with a knee injury after just 12 minutes and Peter O’Mahony was sent off a couple of minutes later.
Yet by half-time it was 14-man Ireland who were leading 13-6 having reacted well to the red card to dominate possession and territory. Tadhg Beirne scored just before the break and Johnny Sexton provided eight points with his boot.
Wales had the better of the third quarter, though. First George North crossed for his 21st Six Nations try, moving him just one behind Shane Williams’s Wales’ record in the championship.
Ireland ran the ball out of their own 22 but then lost possession and Nick Tompkins snaffled up the loose ball. North initiated one carry, the ball was then recycled and Josh Navidi produced a brilliant back-handed offload to release North again.
The centre threw a dummy before cutting between James Lowe and Iain Henderson, then had the power to get over the line despite being tackled by Beirne.
Then North turned creator. After a series of Wales penalties in Ireland’s 22 around the hour mark, Rees-Zammit was put over in the corner after some slick passing from North and Leigh Halfpenny.
The 20-year-old winger scored his first try for Wales against Georgia in November but this was his first in the Six Nations – and judging by this finish there will be many more.
He launched himself into the air and touched the ball down one-handed without going into touch and while being tackled by Tadhg Furlong.
A Leigh Halfpenny penalty in the 64th minute gave Wales a 21-13 lead – but Ireland were not done, despite playing for so long a man down.
They built again and a Billy Burns penalty going into the last ten minutes narrowed the gap to just five points and then Wales’ ill-discipline once the clock had ticked beyond 80 gave them the opportunity to snatch victory.
First, Tompkins was penalised for a deliberate knock-on and then North was pinged at a breakdown but, crucially, Burns kicked the ball dead as he tried to secure a five-metre lineout.
It was such an odd ending to the match that neither team seemed to know what to do, with little to no celebrations from the team in red.
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said of Burns’s kick: “As a ten you’ve got to go for it. Sometimes you go for it and you’re the hero and he did have to go for it because there’s a big difference from ten metres out and five metres out.”
The result will help relieve the pressure on Wales coach Wayne Pivac, although he may be without several players who started here for the visit to Scotland next weekend.
As well as Lydiate, Tomos Williams limped off at half-time and George North looked to be struggling too.
That’s before you look at the number of head injuries. Both Johnny Williams and Hallam Amos went off for HIAs, and stayed off, for Wales while Ireland’s James Ryan, Robbie Henshaw and Sexton all looked to have suffered head injuries, with only Henshaw returning to the fray after an HIA.
Both teams will have plenty on their to-do list ahead of next weekend’s fixtures – Wales’ lineout is still malfunctioning – but there were also a few standout performances. Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones was superb in his first match for two months, bringing physicality and nous with and without the ball, while Beirne and Hugo Keenan impressed for Ireland.
Given they had to play for more than an hour with 14 men, leaving Cardiff with a bonus point could be crucial for Ireland as the championship progresses, albeit that they will be disappointed not to capitalise on their match-winning opportunity with the clock in the red.
While Wales fans will be hoping to see more of those finishes from Rees-Zammit.
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