Ireland 21-23 Wales - Rugby Union Six Nations Match Report

The final game of the opening weekend saw Wales travel to Dublin to take on Ireland, who would be looking to avenge their defeat in the World Cup Quarter-Final.

Ball In Touch:The final game of the opening weekend saw Wales travel to Dublin to take on Ireland, who would be looking to avenge their defeat in the World Cup Quarter-Final. Let us know what you thought of the game or anything else either in the comments below or on Twitter @Ballintouch and remember to use our handy beginners A-Z guide to rugby, here. All the talk was predictably about the World Cup quarter-final between these two sides that was won by the Welsh and led to their failed semi-final effort against France. The Irish side seemed to select as many as possible from those still available, the absence of Brian O€™Driscoll through injury being the most notable. His replacement Keith Earls had also dropped out of the team so Fergus McFadden had all the pressure of the number 13 shirt to deal with. Wales still constituted the majority of those who did so well in New Zealand, but injuries to Dan Lydiate amongst others and the retirement of try machine Shane Williams produced both opportunity and questions of those filling the gaps left by those they replaced. Jonny Sexton, replacing Ronan O€™Gara at ten, slotted a penalty to opening the scores. The response from Wales was to barge into the Irish 22, Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts getting close before Ryan Jones was shove over the line in a mass of bodies. Multiple TMO replays provided no definitive answer and thus no try could be awarded, the solid form of Rory Best seemingly denying the grounding. Both sides had clearly decided the breakdown was an area to gain an advantage, the Welsh winning the early exchanges. Retaining possession, the Welsh worked their way into the Irish 22 again and a break down the short side saw Rhys Priestland cause chaos, drawing two defenders and passing to Jonathan Davies to fly over. The TMO was called again by referee Wayne Barnes but only a couple of replays were needed to give it. Creator Priestland failed to convert. Captain Paul O€™Connell gave Wales a scrum on the centre spot for being in front of the kicker at the restart. Momentum from the scrum saw Wales grind there way forward, the Irish forwards slowing the ball and making life uncomfortable for Mike Phillips. Sean O€™Brien gave Wales a penalty when he lost patience at being unable to turnover the ball and handled in the ruck. Despite being in front of the posts, for the second time in ten minutes, Priestland rattled the upright, the ball bouncing out into open play. With the play opening up, a phenomenal take in the air by Rob Kearney from his own kick put the Irish into Welsh territory, but Wales held strong, forced the mistake, and led Ireland back into their own half.
A monstrous kick by the equally monstrously sized debutant Alex Cuthbert (6ft 6€) showed impressive kicking ability. The same cannot be said of Jonny Sexton€™s penalty attempt, clearly having the same boot supplier as Priestland as his slid to the right. Having survived this period of Welsh pressure, the Irish started to create a few chances for themselves, Stephen Ferris being one to assert himself. Having denied a try at the other end, Rory Best then scored one, but it was the work of Tommy Bowe that made it, attacking the defence at pace, cutting inside and drawing two before offloading to Best to skip home untroubled. Sexton made amends for his earlier miss with the conversion. With the score at 10-5 at half-time, Ireland would have been thankful to be ahead as Wales had done everything right bar keep the scoreboard ticking over sufficiently. Injuries to Cuthbert and Warburton meant Hook and Tipuric came on for the second half and Jonny Sexton continued where he left off, nudging another penalty inside the upright to extend Ireland€™s lead. A third missed penalty by Priestland suggested today may not be his day with the boot, meaning Wales had to build again as they began to dominate possession once again. Leigh Halfpenny relieved him of his misery to kick a long range penalty to take the score to 13-8. A seemingly innocuous mistake by Tommy Bowe to gift Wales a line-out proved crucial. From the long throw George North found space and delivered a superb offload out of the back of his hand for Jonathan Davies to squeeze over for his second try, Halfpenny adding the extras to nudge Wales in front. Being behind seemed to spur Ireland into a higher gear, a few steaming runs proving too much for the Welsh defence and giving Jonny Sexton the chance to retake the lead, a chance he took, albeit after flirting with the post once again. With the lead and now only twenty minutes to go, the Irish crowd continue to ramp up the noise in the hope of further points. The shrill blast of Wayne Barnes€™ whistle brought the game to a halt for an off the ball altercation as Bradley James€™ spear tackled Ireland€™s Ryan to the ground in a way that was worse than Saw Warburton€™s effort last year that saw him see red. The decision was only a yellow but leniency was probably not the right thing to do. One point and one man down, Wales had to deal with an Irish side sensing an opportunity to put some daylight between the two sides, a series of clattering runs taking them just metres short. With the defence piled to the left, the ball went right and Tommy Bowe squeezed over for his 20th international try. Sexton found the angle too difficult but the gap was now six. Eventually Wales got a bit of possession and worked a chance for George North to batter over the line, using all his strength to take the Irish defenders with him. Barely two metres in from the touchline, all eyes turned to Halfpenny to retake the lead. As the crowd discouraged him his kick agonisingly refused to go between the posts, instead going across the front of them. As the game entered its final minute and Ireland in the lead, Stephen Ferris was adjudged to have performed a spear tackle, earning himself a yellow card and the Wales the penalty in front of the post. Thirty seconds left and at last Halfpenny found his range. The score at 23-21, Wales took the restart and cleared to touch as the clock hit 80 minutes as the boos rang out from the home crowd. The closeness of the score line is a fair reflection of this game, either side could have won it and disappointingly the final result was dictated by the referees whistle. The tackle that won Ferris a yellow card was questionable in how illegal it really was, likewise the Bradley Davies incident was surely a red card, not yellow. It was nowhere near the ball and reckless. If those decisions had went the other way, the final quarter could have been a lot different. The consistency of these decisions needs clarified and the fact it was Wayne Barnes in the middle, the perennial punch bag of bad refereeing decisions, will give his €˜fans€™ another field day. By the letter of the law is a phrase that we will no doubt hear in the discussions in the next few days, but I€™m still to be convinced. Rugby is played on grass, not paper. However, it is not to say that Wales didn€™t deserve to win. Both sides had their chances and gave a good effort. The first thirty minutes were all Wales and but for the wayward boot of Priestland they should have been ahead. Ireland took their chances well and punished the men in red when they lost a man to the sin-bin. Tommy Bowe was impressive in attack but not as much as Wales€™ George North. Still only 19 years old every run made ground or attracted defenders like a magnet. Both sides can take encouragement from this result, Ireland grew into the game and looked dangerous when in full flow. Wales too can look forward to building on what is an excellent result to take home to the Millennium Stadium, where they have three home games still to come in this competition. On the face of it Wales probably are the better prospect for the title and when back up to a full complement will be even more dangerous. With the first round of matches done, France are probably the standout side so far, but all sides have work to do. Wales will be keen to build on today€™s effort as they seem to be first in line to challenge Les Bleus for the title but next up for them is Scotland whilst Ireland travel to Paris. IRELAND (10) 21 Tries: Best, Bowe Con: Sexton Pens: Sexton 3 WALES (5) 23 Tries: Davies 2, North Con: Halfpenny Pens: Halfpenny 2 Ireland: R Kearney; Bowe, McFadden, D'Arcy, Trimble; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, O'Callaghan, O'Connell, Ferris, O'Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: O'Gara for Sexton (74), Reddan for Murray (77), Ryan for O'Callaghan (63). Not Used: Cronin, Court, O'Mahony, D Kearney. Sin-bin: Ferris (80) Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, J Davies, Roberts, North; Priestland, Phillips, Gill, Bennett, A Jones, B Davies, Evans, R Jones, Warburton, Faletau. Replacements: Hook for Cuthbert (41), James for A Jones (70), Tipuric for Warburton (41). Not Used: Owens, Powell, L Williams, S Williams.

Follow @BallInTouch on Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest rugby news and columns. Jeff Ball is a Geordie with a Newcastle Falcons season ticket, a rugby coaching badge, a bias for Newcastle United on Playstation games and was terrified by Jurassic Park as a child. For more of his personal musings following him on Twitter @JeffreyBall If you have any comments about this story please post a comment.