ALL THINGS IRELAND: IRELAND'S GRAND SLAM BID ENDED IN WALES
IRELAND BEAT NEW ZEALAND FOR THE 1ST TIME 40-29 IN HISTORIC WIN IN CHICAGO...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

IRELAND'S GRAND SLAM BID ENDED IN WALES

Wales 23-16 Ireland


Ireland’s Grand Slam dream was shattered in Wales in a case of so near yet so very, very far.
Image result for PAUL O CONNELL
On this occasion, Wales did so in some style, making 228 tackles in an immense defensive effort and generally playing the more charismatic and inventive rugby when it counted.
Their seven-point margin victory consisted of just one try, Scott Williams crossing with some ease midway through the second half, combined with five Leigh Halfpenny penalties and a superbly struck Dan Biggar drop-goal at the end of the first.
In reply, Ireland mustered a converted penalty-try and three Jonathan Sexton penalties. But it is the number of opportunities that were squandered that will dominate the post-match discussion.
The moment when Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe, with the line at their mercy on the wing, were left waving their arms in desperation as those around the ball attempted to shove their way over will live long in the memory.
Ireland’s fall back to earth began inside the first minute, a handling error at kick-off giving Leigh Halfpenny the first of four early penalty chances, all of which were drilled over with authority by the diminutive Welsh full-back.
Wales were also dominating the kicking battle with Halfpenny taking the first of many high balls to set the tone and acrobatically diving to field Sexton’s early attempt at a raking touch-finder. It was the beginning of a frustrating, error-ridden day for the Irish out-half.
Wales also had the edge in the wide channels, Jonathan Davies dismissal via a hand-off of Sexton symbolising their dominance.
After conceding 12 points in 12 minutes there was finally some respite for Ireland. First, the unfortunate Samson Lee was forced off with a leg injury after a collapsed scrum, giving Ireland much-needed breathing space.
Wales made errors in the aftermath, though Sexton was unable to punish the first pushing an effort to the left and wide after a penalty for not rolling away. A high-tackle on Tommy Bowe gave him a second chance seconds later and he made no mistake on that occasion.
Ireland then had their first attack of substance, working through phase after phase and earning a penalty that Paul O’Connell opted to kick to touch from a wide position that was within Sexton’s range. On what would prove a dreadful day for the hitherto superb Irish lineout, the gamble would fail when Rory Best’s delivery was under-thrown to Man of the Match Sam Warburton.
Warburton was yellow-carded soon after as Wales played as close to the edge of referee Wayne Barnes’ tolerance as possible at the breakdown.
Sexton made it 12-6 from the resultant penalty but Wales had a final moment of excellence in them to round out the half, Biggar kicking superbly to make it a nine-point gap after 40 minutes.
The first half had been hugely interesting; the second was utterly compelling.
It began with a superb line-break from O’Connell, his second on a day when he was one of relatively few Irish players to perform to their ability.
An immense sequence followed, with Wales resisting through over 50 phases of incredible intensity that saw Bowe get closest to the line until, after Ireland opted to kick for the corner rather than take the points, Sexton was eventually penalised for going off his feet and Wales were able to escape the red zone.

Minutes later, they had a chance of their own and while Ireland were let off once when Biggar’s pass looped into touch, another line-out failure gave Wales a second bite of the cherry. Where Ireland had laboured close to the gain-line, Wales had the courage to stand their back line deeper and in the end, that meant Scott Williams had a simple enough job of racing over for the game’s first try.
Halfpenny missed with the conversion but Wales had gained a crucial advantage.
Could Ireland chase a game? Eoin Reddan came on at the head of a battalion of subs and set about trying to do just that.
It got Ireland within a yard of the line with men to spare but they chose to attempt to bludgeon their way over and, ultimately, coughed up the ball.
With the clock very much against them, Ireland finally got the seven-pointer they needed when the Welsh maul defence was overwhelmed out near the touchline.
Pushed deep into their own half and unable to gain territory, Irish errors always looked likely to end the comeback and in the end that proved the case when Cian Healy was penalised for holding on near halfway. Halfpenny knocked that kick over to make the gap seven points
There was still time for Ireland to scramble a draw and once again they were able to stretch Wales, before Davies was sin-binned for slapping the ball down to end a dangerous attack. But a final successful defence against the Irish lineout maul and a confusing scrum that Ireland appeared to have won but were eventually penalised over saw the clock run out.
Ireland may carp about aspects of the refereeing and will also wonder what might have been if their start had been even slightly better.
In the end though, as has so often been the case in this compelling rivalry, the underdog had thoroughly and convincingly shown the other side to have feet of clay.



Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Gethin Jenkins, Scott Baldwin, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (captain), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Jarvis for Lee (12), Evans for Jenkins (40), Hibbard for Baldwin (56), Williams for Roberts (59), Phillips for Webb (68), Tipuric for Lydiate (68), Ball for Wyn Jones (71), Baldwin for Hibbard (78).
Sin bin: Warburton (27), Davies (77).
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Healy for McGrath (56), Reddan for Murray (62), Cronin for Best (62), Moore for Ross (62), Henderson for Toner (62), Murphy for Heaslip (71), Madigan for Sexton (74).
(c)RTE Sport





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