Six Nations: Wales record stunning 23-16 victory over Ireland in Cardiff
Last Updated: 15/03/15 11:37am
Wales blew the Six Nations title race wide open with a superb 23-16 victory over Ireland at the Millennium Stadium.
Warren Gatland’s men beat the reigning champions at their own game, producing an outstanding defensive performance and excelling in the air as they ended Ireland’s 10-game winning streak.
Four penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and a Dan Biggar drop goal gave Wales a 15-9 interval lead, and having withstood a brutal second-half assault on their line, the hosts extended their advantage on 61 minutes when replacement Scott Williams touched down.
A penalty try gave Ireland hope but Halfpenny kicked a crucial penalty with six minutes remaining to ensure three teams remain in the hunt for the championship heading into the final weekend.
Similar to their opening game against England, Wales burst out of the traps and quickly registered 12 unanswered points.
Ireland were uncharacteristically undisciplined and Halfpenny was on hand to punish them with the boot, kicking four penalties that included a booming effort from halfway.
Wales suffered a setback when Samson Lee suffered a leg injury in the first scrum of the game, and the delay in play gave Ireland time to regroup.
Johnny Sexton, who was below his best, was off target with his first penalty on 15 minutes, but he found his range moments later by landing a more difficult effort as Ireland began to grow into the game.
Some ferocious Welsh defending left Ireland looking bereft of ideas in attack, but the hosts let them out of jail with a succession of penalties that resulted in Sam Warburton being sin-binned on 27 minutes, and Sexton cut the gap to six points.
With Ireland’s lineout malfunctioning, Dan Biggar slipped back into the pocked to slot over a drop goal, but that was cancelled out by Sexton late in the half to leave the visitors trailing 15-9 as they headed to the dressing rooms.
Wales lost another prop, Gethin Jenkins, during the break, and they found themselves on the back foot after the restart as Ireland pounded the Welsh line.
Joe Schmidt’s side went through 32 phases of play during one spell but they were met by a ferocious red defence, whose superb line speed kept them at bay.
Tommy Bowe was dragged down within inches of the line before Sexton was penalised for going off his feet, and Wales punished Ireland’s one-dimensional play moments later with the game’s opening try.
Ireland slowed Wales down at a ruck but they went wide and Biggar fed replacement Williams, who faked a pass and cut inside Bowe to score an unconverted try.
Ireland’s forwards butchered the chance for an immediate response, suffering a bout of white-line fever as they ignored the unmarked backs out wide, but they redeemed themselves on 69 minutes when Wales dragged their maul down on the line for a penalty try.
A superb turnover by man of the match Warburton gave Halfpenny the chance to extend Wales’ lead to seven, and despite the yellow-carding of Jonathan Davies for a deliberate knock-on, the hosts’ set piece held firm in the closing stages to secure an excellent victory.