Match Report – Wales 21 – 16 Ireland
A costly Peter O’Mahony red card – the first ever shown to an Irishman in Six Nations history – saw Wales eventually pull away to a 21-16 victory at a frosty Principality Stadium.
The Munsterman was shown a straight red card by referee Wayne Barnes just 14 minutes into the contest in Cardiff, for making contact with the face of prop Tomas Francis in an illegal clear-out.
Ireland recovered from 6-0 down to go 13-6 ahead in the contest courtesy of two Johnny Sexton penalties and a Tadhg Beirne try, but a George North try and wonderful Louis Rees-Zammit finish saw the hosts edge in front.
Leigh Halfpenny pushed the lead out to two scores off the kicking tee with a penalty, and though replacement Billy Burns brought Ireland to within five points, they couldn’t recover again as Burns kicked the ball dead with a penalty in the Welsh half inside the final play.
The first score arrived four minutes in when O’Mahony looked to have made a legal breakdown poach, but referee Barnes decreed centre Garry Ringrose was too slow to roll away and gave Wales the decision, allowing Halfpenny to register the first points from close range.
Ten minutes later the entire nature of the match changed when O’Mahony was shown a straight red card for an ill-advised, needless clear-out with his left elbow to the face of tighthead Tomas.
Five minutes later Wales doubled their advantage when Ireland skipper Sexton was pinged for a high tackle and Halfpenny drove the ball between the posts once more.
Ireland responded by putting 11 phases of intense attacking play together in and around the Wales 22, but it ended when CJ Stander’s offload dropped forward.
The visitors lost talismanic second row James Ryan to a HIA soon after, and the lock wouldn’t return as all seemed to be going wrong for Andy Farrell and his squad.
A penalty against Ken Owens for going off feet at the breakdown allowed Ireland back into the Wales 22 when Sexton kicked for touch, but the subsequent lineout was then stolen by Adam Beard.
Ireland did finally get on to the scoreboard after 29 minutes when Sexton struck over a penalty from 40 metres out after a Wales high tackle in midfield.
Despite being a man light, Ireland continued to dictate large passages, putting together another multi-phase move (18 this time) on 33 minutes, but just couldn’t find the finishing touches as Robbie Henshaw spilled a Sexton pass.
Moments later, Ireland were level in the contest, though, as North went off feet at a breakdown within the Wales 22, and Sexton knocked over the simple effort for 6-6.
And then three minutes from half-time the 14 men of Ireland notched the opening try as Beirne grounded from close range after a brilliant charging run and offload from Henshaw to openside Josh van der Flier, who was just stopped short before Beirne took the chance.
Sexton converted for 13-6 before a pair of Ireland breakdown penalties from replacement Iain Henderson and Ringrose saw them into the break with that advantage.
A Ringrose high tackle allowed Wales into the Ireland 22 for the first time in a long while seven minutes into the second period, but a Taulupe Faletau knock on ended the chance of that attack.
As Ireland broke off that defensive scrum, however, a Ringrose offload went to deck and allowed Wales to attack out of nothing and North to score down the right.
Halfpenny’s conversion slipped wide, however, leaving Ireland with a slender 13-11 lead and when Wales wing Hallam Amos kicked out on the full, Ireland had a chance just outside the Wales 22.
The Irish set-piece produced scrappy ball as Justin Tipuric challenged in the air, however, and minutes later Ireland were penalised for side entry and Wales could clear.
Just shy of the hour mark, after a series of costly Irish errors invited Wales deep into the visitors’ 22, wing Rees-Zammit scored in the corner via a sensational finish to regain the lead, and this time Halfpenny did convert off the touchline to stretch the lead to five.
As Ireland looked to build back into the game, a cheap penalty against them for blocking off the ball saw Wales back into prime scoring territory, and that they did as Barnes again penalised Ireland – harshly – at the breakdown, allowing Halfpenny to make the Test a two-score game off the tee.
Sexton soon criminally missed touch with a penalty kick from hand as the game started to drift away from Ireland, before the skipper was forced to leave after his head collided with the knee of Tipuric.
A penalty against Alyn Wyn Jones for failing to roll away near his own try-line afforded Ireland a route back into the Test, as replacement Burns kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit back to five points.
Ireland continued to press for the remainder, playing four minutes into dead time of a frantic end as Wales centre Nick Tompkins avoided a yellow card for an intentional knock on.
But when handed the chance to kick to touch within the Wales 22 in the final play, Burns kicked the ball dead, ending Ireland’s last shot at a comeback.
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