Jacob Stockdale scored a brace as Ireland claimed a 37-27 bonus-point win over Wales in Dublin on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Ireland came into this Test riding a wave of confidence after two contrasting victories against France and Italy. They were installed as favourites to beat Wales, who had struggled for consistency and with selection, because of several injuries.
The two sides contributed equally to produce a brutal, compelling contest in the first half. But Ireland – with their talisman Johnny Sexton leading the charge – took control of the game from the start of the second half. In the end, Wales conceded six turnovers, made 175 tackles and conceded nine penalties (having only conceded two in the entire match against England).
After going behind 3-0 in the third minute, Ireland had the opportunity to draw level from the restart, but Sexton’s attempt ricocheted back off the post. Wales failed to clear the danger, with Ireland forcing a knock on in the 22. From the set piece, they kept the ball tight among the forwards before Sexton called for possession and threw a magic ball, cutting out two teammates to find Stockdale for the try.
The No 10, who had to sit out the first part of Ireland’s captain’s run due to a sore back, then worryingly skewed the conversion and another penalty.
After going through the motions for a short period, Wales sparked back to life and regained the lead with a 10-point haul via a converted try and a penalty.
However, they blew that advantage on the cusp of half-time when first Sexton narrowed the gap before centre Bundee Aki burst over from close range. Sexton eased the ball through the uprights to give Ireland a 15-13 lead at the break.
Ireland bullied Wales in the second half, depriving them of possession and pinning them in back in their own half. The Welsh looked deflated.
Tries by flank Dan Leavy and prop Cian Healy pushed the hosts’ lead out to 27-13. But Wales, who had played well in patches up to that point, were to have another burst at the Irish defence to set up a nervy finish.
Keeping possession for a sustained period of time, flank Aaron Shingler finished off a try for Wales which started all the way back in their own half. Leigh Halfpenny’s conversion made it a seven-point game.
While Conor Murray added three points for Ireland, Wales weren’t ready to concede defeat yet, adding another try against the run of play through wing Stef Evans. Halfpenny made no mistake with the conversion and sprinted back to the halfway line so that the game could restart.
With the game officially in stoppage time, Wales attacked Ireland’s defensive line in pursuit of a dramatic win or at least a draw. They created an overlap and went for a lob pass over the top, but Stockdale read the play and made the decision to come off his line. He intercepted the ball and scuttled away to score a try that secured the win.
Ireland – Tries: Jacob Stockdale (2), Bundee Aki, Dan Leavy, Cian Healy. Conversions: Johnny Sexton (2), Conor Murray. Penalties: Sexton, Murray.
Wales – Tries: Gareth Davies, Aaron Shingler, Steff Evans. Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny (3). Penalties: Halfpenny (2).
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 1acob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 James Ryan, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 John Ryan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Cory Hill, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 George North.
Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images