Ireland hold on against Wales
Wales 22 Ireland 30:Ireland survived a second half onslaught that will live long in the memory but ultimately did enough before the break to put the result beyond Wales. A punishing but thrilling encounter went the way of Declan Kidney’s side with the old warhorse Brian O’Driscoll leading once more from the front.
First half scores from Simon Zebo and Cian Healy opening a healthy advantage before O’Driscoll dotted down shortly after the interval to open an insurmountable 30-3 lead. After that, it was all about Wales with Ireland forced to defend heroically – and often illegally – but despite scoring three tries of their own the home side were unable to get back on terms.
They stirred through touchdowns from wing Alex Cuthbert, full-back Leigh Halfpenny and substitute prop Craig Mitchell during a frantic second period when Ireland saw hooker Rory Best and scrumhalf Conor Murray sin-binned. But ultimately left themselves with far too much to do as Ireland, despite playing almost the entire second period inside their own half, scored 30 points in Cardiff for the first time since 2001.
They condemned the Grand Slam champions to an eighth successive defeat — and a fifth Millennium Stadium reversal on the bounce — with interim head coach Rob Howley still searching for a first win against another test-playing country.
After such a bruising encounter, Ireland will have plenty of weary bodies ahead of next Sunday’s meeting with England but will reflect tonight on a deserved win despite conceding 19 unanswered points after the 43rd minute. It was Wales’ first Six Nations loss since March 2011, but Ireland, in contrast, now have critical momentum that could drive them all the way to silverware in a tournament they last won four years ago.
Both teams launched their Six Nations campaigns on the back of considerable injury problems.
Wales were without Rhys Priestland, Richard Hibbard, Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Dan Lydiate and Ryan Jones, while Ireland arrived in Cardiff minus key men Paul O’Connell, Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris. But the scene was set under an open roof in glorious winter sunshine for a thrilling tussle, especially with so much at stake.
And it was Ireland that struck the opening blow after 11 minutes courtesy of sublime brilliance from O’Driscoll. His ability to freeze the opposition defence surfaced in all its glory, with three Welsh defenders transfixed as he teased them before delivering a scoring pass to Zebo. Zebo took the plaudits through scoring a try on his Six Nations debut, but O’Driscoll once again showcased breathtaking ability at the highest level, with Sexton’s conversion making it 7-0.
Wales, despite some resilient defensive work from full-back Leigh Halfpenny, could not get out of their own half, and there was worse to come as Ireland smelt blood. A Sexton penalty after 20 minutes extended the lead, and even when Wales occasionally moved into Irish territory their efforts were undone by a handling error or by choosing the wrong option.