Wales shatter Ireland's World Cup dream
Jonathan Davies delivers the knockout blow as Ireland's World Cup dream is ended by Wales in Wellington. Photograph: Marcos Brindicci/Reuters
Ireland 10 Wales 22:The dream is over as a great Irish side misfired on the night. There could be no complaints about Wales’ three tries to one win. The Welsh rose to the occasion with a greater intensity and accuracy about what they did, only making three handling errors in a capricious, wet night in windy Wellington.
A rejuvenated, young Welsh side, moulded in classic Warren Gatland/Shaun Edwards style, won the collisions, by and large, and the breakdown, and whoever does that generally wins over 80 minutes too.
For much of the first-half, especially, Ireland had the territory (60 per cent) and the possession (57 per cent), with Wales making 85 tackles to 46 and conceding six penalties to two. They certainly flirted with a yellow card at the breakdown, and also with the offside where, remarkably, they weren’t pinged once.
For much of the night too, Wales had a better shape and depth to their attacking, rarely getting isolated or not looking as if they weren’t running through a pattern they’d done on the training ground. Not so Ireland, who became a little too lateral and lost their shape through the phases, with the net result that they weren’t competing enough at the breakdown and their ruck ball was slower.
Wales’ defensive display will rightly be heralded as outstanding, which tells you that Ireland must have done something right. The spirit was willing throughout the team. The pack was largely excellent on their own scrums and line-out, with Rory Best and Paul O’Connell leading the way. Donncha O’Callaghan was good too, but hard though Se án O’Brien and Stephen Ferris tried, they couldn’t make inroads.
Aside from attacking his channel, Wales had particularly joy in pushing up hard on the outside of Ronan O’Gara and showing him the inside, and the Irish outhalf wasn’t helped by having so few options there. Brian O’Driscoll and the ever dangerous Tommy Bowe had good games, and Rob Kearney was very physical and solid at the back, but Ireland might have been better served with a few more pick-and-go drives or close-in target runners before shipping the ball.
Ultimately, despite scarcely using their bench, Wales looked younger, fitter and stronger, and capable of sustaining the game’s high tempo and then living with it.
As the rain added to the wind factor just before kick-off, Wales were given every encouragement from the off on another bubbling, raucous and colourful night in the Wellington Regional Stadium.
Apart from Best proving his right shoulder was indeed fine, Wales couldn’t have made a better start, Ireland a worse one. After Keith Earls had lost the ball in contact when taking it up the middle, Wales went through a muti-phase 60 metre attack, exposing Ireland out wide which culminated in Mike Phillips and Jonathan Davies combining for Shane Williams to score in the corner.
Better still for Wales, Rhys Priestland landed a superb touchline conversion. Whatever callowness or inexperience Wales took into this game, that was almost eradicated in one fell swoop as their manifold self-confidence was serenely continued into the first-half.
Ireland came knocking loudly after Ferris had bumped through Priestland and from a penalty close-in wide to the right, asked O’Gara to kick to the corner. So began the first of three penalties to the corner on either side of the pitch, but Williams, of all people, manoeuvred his body under O’Brien when he broke off one of the mauls.
A combination of errors and the Welsh blitz defence undid repeated forays by Ireland, with the pressure outside of him obliging O’Gara to take the ball into contact four times in the opening half.
But O’Driscoll, who was having a big game, reacted first to an up-and-under by Priestland which bounced off Jonathan Davies’ shoulder, Kearney taking a good line up the middle from the captain’s offload. Although caught, it led to a penalty by O’Gara when Gethin Jenkins went off his feet.
However, when Ferris was called for not releasing, Leigh Halfpenny rewarded the Welsh blitz defence with a 50 metre penalty to restore the seven-point lead. At half-time, Luke Charteris gave way, having made an astonishing 16 tackles in the first 40 minutes.
The game flipped one way and then the other in the decisive third quarter as first Ireland renewed the offensive with a multi-phase attack off a shortened line-out in the middle of the pitch, the move seeming to flounder when Conor Murray’s pass went to ground, but the excellent Bowe fed Earls from Ferris’ pick-up and the winger took Phillips’ covering tackle to slide in brilliantly by the corner flag again for his fifth try of the tournament. O’Gara even managed a magnificent touchline conversion to draw the sides level.
However, the outstanding Phillips gained swift retribution when catching the Irish off guard with a blind side snipe to beat Gordon D’Arcy and Bowe for an expertly taken try by the corner flag.
Ireland were obliged to go to the bench first, exchanging Murray and O’Gara for Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton at half-back, but their goose when cooked when they were slow to react as three Welsh runners switched from blind side to open and Jonathan Davies went between Cian Healy and Earls, handing off the prop to take him on the outside before withstanding Reddan’s covering tackle to score.
A very selective penalty by Craig Joubert, who is nothing like the referee he used to be, against Jamie Heaslip for going off his feet, when Sam Warburton had done likewise and came in from the side at the previous ruck, saw Priestland hit the upright with a second penalty.
It didn’t matter. The Welsh defence had the bit between their teeth, O’Brien almost scoring off a snipe and offload by Reddan only for Halfpenny to make the tackle. Soon Tom Jones’ Delilah was ringing out.
The dream was over. There was no shame in that, this group of players owe us nothing and for once they will have some reasonably good World Cup memories, but this was a glorious opportunity missed.
Scoring sequence: 3 minsWilliams try, Priestland con 0-7; 24 minsO’Gara pen 3-7; 28 minsHalfpenny pen 3-10; (half-time 3-10); 45 minsEarls try, O’Gara con 10-10; 51 minsPhillips try 10-15; 64 minsJ Davies try, Priestland con 10-22.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney(Leinster); Tommy Bowe(Ospreys), Brian O'Driscoll(Leinster, capt), Gordon D'Arcy(Leinster), Keith Earls(Munster); Ronan O'Gara(Munster), Conor Murray(Munster); Cian Healy(Leinster), Rory Best(Ulster), Mike Ross(Leinster), Donncha O'Callaghan(Munster), Paul O'Connell(Munster), Stephen Ferris(Ulster), Se án O'Brien(Leinster), Jamie Heaslip(Leinster). Replacements: Eoin Reddan(Leinster) for Murray, Jonathan Sexton(Leinster) for O’Gara (both 56 mins), Andrew Trimble(Ulster) for Earls (72 mins), Donnacha Ryan(Munster) for Ferris, Denis Leamy(Munster) for Heaslip (both 75 mins). Not used: Sean Cronin(Leinster), Tom Court(Ulster).
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny(Cardiff Blues); George North(Scarlets), Jonathan Davies(Scarlets), Jamie Roberts(Cardiff Blues), Shane Williams(Ospreys); Rhys Priestland(Scarlets), Mike Phillips(Bayonne); Gethin Jenkins(Cardiff Blues), Huw Bennett(Ospreys), Adam Jones(Ospreys), Luke Charteris(Newport Gwent Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones(Ospreys), Dan Lydiate(Newport Gwent Dragons), Sam Warburton(Cardiff Blues, capt), Toby Faletau(Newport Gwent Dragons). Replacements: Bradley Davies(Cardiff Blues) for Charteris (half-time), James Hook(Perpignan) for Priestland (76 mins). Not used: Lloyd Burns(Newport Gwent Dragons), Paul James(Ospreys), Ryan Jones(Ospreys), Lloyd Williams(Cardiff Blues), James Hook(Perpignan), Scott Williams(Scarlets).
Referee:Craig Joubert (South Africa)