Ireland complete another Welsh mission

Ireland made a winning start to their Six Nations campaign on Sunday, beating Wales in Cardiff 19-9 in a fabulous game of rugby.


It doesn’t sound like much of a scoreline, but it tells a false tale. Both teams conjured up a thrilling brand of rugby to wow the crowd, with Ireland’s belligerence and discipline on the ball just winning through in the end.


Wales and Ireland certainly saved the best rugby of the weekend for last. At Cana of Galilee the wedding organisers were almost accused for saving the best wine for last. This match was a climax to the weekend and a glorious reaffirmation of the virtues of rugby after two one-sided Six Nations matches and much bumbling and fumbling in the not-so-super Super 14.


It was a match played with intensity, skill, adventure and courage – the best of rugby. Afterwards Eddie O’Sullivan, unsmiling, described it as a “rough and tumble” game – which did it no justice at all.


Ireland scored three tries to nil, which suggests a comfortable victory but it was not so.


After the match Dwayne Peel remarked that Wales had dominated the first half, and indeed they had. But Ireland had three chances to score in the half and scored on two of those occasions.


The first try was after 45 seconds. Ireland kicked off, Wales kicked back and Ireland attacked with – an omen – Gordon D’Arcy running at the Welsh. Back the ball came from the tackle and Peter Stringer kicked down towards the Welsh left where young, late-replacement Chris Czekaj could have let the ball bounce out but chose instead to grab it and turn it in to Stephen Jones who kicked, aiming at the touch-line. The ball did not get there because Brian O’Driscoll charged it down. Hooker Rory Best was on hand to scoop up the ball and plunge over for the try. 5-0 after 45 seconds.


Not downhearted Wales then took over and attacked. An Irish Off-side gave Jones a simple penalty. 5-3.


Then came Ireland’s second chance to score, the chance they did not take. Again it was D’Arcy who set it going with a strong break going left. Ireland were battering at the line when Denis Hickie did a corkscrew and darted at the line, passing to David Wallace, who did not take the pass with nobody between him and a stride to the line, and Wales survived.


A counterattack by lively Kevin Morgan set Wales going again and a penalty against Donncha O’Callaghan for collapsing a maul gave Jones his second easy kick and Wales the lead (6-5) after 19 pulsating minutes.


Wales at this stage varied their game with clever kicking, sharp handling and tapped penalties to keep the Irish under pressure. To their credit the wise Irish heads did not panic and their defence always looked in control.


But another Irish off-side gave Jones another penalty. Wales led 9-5 after 24 minutes. They were not destined to score again in the match.


In one attack Hickie suffered a scalp wound and went off with a blood-laced face. He came back later with a scrum cap to cover his five stitches. While he was away Geordan Murphy replaced him.


Hickie was not the only bleeder in the match for Ryan Jones and Ian Gough were also off for patching.


Then came Ireland’s third chance. Ronan O’Gara kicked a long kick down towards his left. It rolled and carried on rolling. Young James Hook stood and watched it roll, perhaps hoping it would roll into touch-in-goal. But a rugby ball has its own inbuilt perversity and the ball rolled out five metres from the Welsh line. Wales won the line-out and Peel kicked high downfield but not out.


Murphy caught ran and kicked high and long, haring after the ball. Taller than Peel he jumped above him and caught the ball to set Ireland attacking on their left. From here they sped the ball to the right margin of the field where O’Driscoll cut inside Czekaj to stretch and score in the corner. O’Gara converted from touch.


Bread of Heaven yielded

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