Wales scored two second half tries as they ground out a 21-16 victory against a 14-man Ireland side at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday.
In an action-packed match from start to finish, Wales needed to complete a second half comeback against a resolute Ireland team, who displayed great character to stay in the contest despite playing with a one-man disadvantage for the majority of the match.
Early on, the Welsh suffered a big blow when flank Dan Lydiate, making his first start since 2018, was forced off after sustaining a serious knee injury. Despite the setback, Leigh Halfpenny put Wales in the lead with a well-struck penalty.
Ireland, though, were dealt an even mightier blow than Wales’ early injury setback, when flank Peter O’Mahony received a straight red card for a dangerous and reckless cleanout with a shoulder to the head of prop Tomas Francis. To make matters worse, Halfpenny extended Wales’ lead with a second penalty.
But oddly enough, that sequence of play seemed to spark Ireland to life. Without breaking stride, Ireland accumulated 13 unanswered points with two penalties and a converted try scored by Tadhg Beirne.
Having controlled possession, Ireland pinned Wales back in their own half and bossed the collisions until the end of the half.
Wales weren’t precise and accurate enough before the break, but their inexplicable struggles in the first half were a thing of the past by the beginning of the second stanza, as a rejuvenated home side took to the field to launch a comeback.
And they landed a double blow as wings George North and Louis Rees-Zammit crossed for two tries, the latter’s acrobatic finish in the corner especially noteworthy. And a third penalty made it an eight-point game in Wales’ favour with 15 minutes remaining.
But Ireland once again showed their mettle as they worked their way into Wales territory before winning a kickable penalty which replacement flyhalf Billy Burns converted into points. With the deficit down to five, the stage was set for grandstand finish.
Ireland dominated possession in the dying minutes, but poor handling let them down, and yet with time up on the clock they were handed another opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Wales nonsensically kicked possession away, allowing Ireland to launch one last attack. With the clock well into stoppage time, Ireland won two penalties, but in an attempt to set a lineout as close to the tryline as possible, Burns kicked the ball dead, ending the match on an agonising note for Ireland and a relieving one for Wales.
Wales – Tries: George North, Louis Rees-Zammit. Conversion: Leigh Halfpenny. Penalties: Halfpenny (3).
Ireland – Try: Tadhg Beirne. Conversion: Johnny Sexton. Penalties: Sexton (2), Billy Burns.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Subs: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Nick Tompkins.
Ireland – 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jonathan Sexton (c), 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Will Connors, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Photo: Getty Images