It’s Friday and there was a thoroughly crucial international rugby match on.
Happy Friday, rugby fans!
Ireland are in Six Nations action on a weekday for the very first time, and the stakes couldn’t be much higher.
Win, and we can move on to a title-decider against England on St Patrick’s weekend.
Lose, and… well let’s not think about that right now.
You’ve still got over an hour to plonk yourself on a seat or a high stool near a TV. And time to get a read of our big match preview (here) and size up the teams.
15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. George North
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Scott Williams
11. Liam Williams
10. Dan Biggar
9. Rhys Webb
1. Rob Evans
2. Ken Owens
3. Tomas Francis
4. Jake Ball
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
6. Sam Warburton
7. Justin Tipuric
8. Ross Moriarty
16. Scott Baldwin
17. Nicky Smith
18. Samson Lee
19. Luke Charteris
20. Taulupe Faletau
21. Gareth Davies
22. Sam Davies
23. Jamie Roberts
15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray
1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Donnacha Ryan
5. Devin Toner
6. CJ Stander
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip
16. Niall Scannell
17. Cian Healy
18. John Ryan
19. Iain Henderson
20. Peter O’Mahony
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Paddy Jackson
23. Tommy Bowe
Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].
The Sun’s Neil O’Riordan is not wrong.
Pre kick-off, Joe Schmidt already has a gripes because it looks like the Welsh groundsmen have been giving the field a thorough drowning.
Two years ago we played with the roof open and the ground was a lot drier than it is right now. For us, we will adapt to the situations. It’s very wet, which is a surprise to us, which could create difficulties handling the ball and getting into the game early.”
The teams are in the tunnel, brace yourself for fireworks (and a couple of anthems), folks.
That terrific Welsh anthem reverberates around the roofed stadium and sends the players into kick-off formations.
Prediction: Ireland have got this. They’ll win by more than 7.
Dan Biggar gets us under way. Simon Zebo takes the kick and Conor Murray bashes it clear to the 10.
George North sent in to midfield to get an early carry. But a phase later, Jack McGrath is in to make an assist tackle and rips the ball clear.
A loop play off Sexton and some fancy football skills from Zebo and Wales are under pressure to clear from the 22.
That was Alun Wyn Jones that big Jack pick-pocketed. Tremendously purposeful start from Ireland.
Wales try to choke up an Irish move, but CJ drags it down just in time.
Sexton hoists a high one up on top of George North. Henshaw contested it well, but the ball spins away and Webb clears to safety again.
Ireland still in the right area though.
Webb goes in very high on Henshaw and gives Sexton an early chance at the posts.
It’s from 40+ metres, but within range…
PENALTY! Wales 0 Ireland 3 (Sexton ’7)
Sexton is flying. Adds an intercept to his early tally, picking off Biggar.
He’s caught, but Keith Earls pings the ball deep and pins Wales in their 22 again.
Ireland committing the bare minimum personnel to rucks, but they’re giving away yards after the tackle and Wales are within 15 metres.
Wales very keen to get Liam Williams hitting the ball at an angle.
So far, Ireland have read every one of his cuts and Ireland force a penalty after some big hits from Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw.
This game is intense.
Mistakes in attack from both sides, the second from Wales gives Simon Zebo a chance to counter. He chips ahead and Ringrose pressures, but the kid looks in need of a second wind.
Stander isn’t short on breath. He charges down the left flank, boshing tacklers off until he has to look for a support runner.
Wales pump it out for a line-out, but Best’s throw is off and Wales can clear.
It’s tight, it’s intense, but this game is chock-full of errors from both sides.
Johnny Sexton is feeling a knock after covering back to snag a Liam Williams kick.
He had taken a knock a few minutes ago when a poor Welsh clearance bounced and gave Tipuric a chance to bash him.
Wayne Barnes and the TMO are looking at the contact between knee and Sexton’s face.
The out-half is off for HIA and Paddy Jackson is on.
TRY! Wales 5 Ireland 3 (North ’19)
Excellent set-play, first-phase try from Wales.
At first glance it looks like Paddy Jackson didn’t cover himself in defensive glory on his first involvement. Wales puncture through around him, Webb spins wide and Halfpenny and North execute.
Halfpenny misses the conversion though and Ireland are just two down.
Rory Best has left his scrum-cap off, so you know he means business.
Ireland plough at the the defence, but can’t get beyond the 10 metre mark and we go back for a line-out.
Tipuric penalised for contesting after the tackle.
PENALTY! Wales 5 Ireland 6 (Jackson ’26)
That completes Jackson’s first-half cameo. Sexton has been cleared to return to the field.
Conor Murray gets in a poor tackling position when going low on George North. Seems to take a knock on his head and left shoulder.
Ireland’s early rhythm is down to a stutter.
Obviously Conor Murray plays on, but on the very next phase he’s down again after contact.
The scrum-half is still in the defensive line, but he’s carrying his right arm like a passenger.
Needs to come off.
It’s a slug-fest alright.
Conor Murray’s pass looks suddenly very mechanical and yet weak. It’s Kieran Marmion time.
Wales pressure mounts, they get a penalty advantage and Biggar chips left to North.
he pops to Halfpenny, and him to Davies, but Ireland scramble across until Wayne Barnes penalises Sexton for killing the ball.
He’s off again.
SIN-BIN: Jonathan Sexton (’37)
PENALTY! Wales 8 Ireland 6 (Halfpenny ’38)
Ireland now have half a half-back, so Simon Zebo takes the restart.
Good response from Ireland. The one-out carrying tactic is very useful when your scrum-half is unable to whip it long.
Yards are made until Jamie Heaslip knocks on to herald the interval.
HALF-TIME: Wales 8 Ireland 6
Conor Murray is back on the field, ready for the second half. Simon Zebo is on restart duty.
Decent early set from Ireland, they look happy to wear the clock down and get the phase count high as they approach the 22 at a snail’s pace.
A poor pass from O’Brien in the Welsh third, Ireland cough it up and Rhys Webb is delighted to turn Conor Murray around to let Halfpenny hunt him down and dump him into touch 5 metres from the try-line.
TRY! Wales 13 Ireland 6 (North ’43)
Wales’ maul is smooth, Webb cuts off to the short-side and it’s an easy finish for George North.
Ireland being undone by the stubborn commitment to keep Conor Murray on the field.
Leigh Halfpenny extends the lead with a tremendous touchline conversion.
Wales 15 Ireland 6
At last, Joe Schmidt decided to call Conor Murray ashore. Kieran Marmion is on in Cardiff.
A horrible run of errors started by messy ruck ball when O’Brien presented after a carry.
It takes an excellent cover effort from Henshaw to stop Wales sneaking in a third.
Very worrying times for Ireland. Look vulnerable and narrow every time Biggar takes the ball on the front foot. Marmion does well to force Moriarty over the touchline before Sexton comes back in to bring us back to the full XV.
Ireland attack looks stodgy until that dark horse Donnacha Ryan gets one-on-one with North. He palms the winger away and makes yards over the gainline.
Ireland within range here.
Huge effort from Ireland in attack. Pouring everything into it, but Wales’ defence is manning up in a big way and capitalising on any delay in Sexton’s passes to smash green jerseys behind the gainline.
PENALTY: Wales 15 Ireland 9 (Sexton ’57)
Ringrose is taken a little high by Biggar 10 metres in front of the posts.
Rory Best is making the case that Ireland were punished for their infringements, but the cards are still in Barnesy’s pockets as Sexton narrows the gap.
Wales shutting down Ireland superbly, reading Sexton’s loop play like a children’s book.
Biggar goes to the pocket for a snap at a drop-goal, but it smacks off the outside of the post.
Sean O’Brien shouting the odds in search of any beneficial inch at the breakdown. This is breathless stuff. On an absolute knife-edge.
To show the sapping nature of this one, Devin Toner is called ashore and Iain Henderson is being sent on.
An absolute howler of a cross-field kick is somehow turned to a priceless field position by Keith Earls.
Superb effort from the Limerick man. Wales suddenly look capable of panicking .
Excellent improvisation from Henshaw, takes Sexton’s pass in space but checks to send a grubber in behind Halfpenny. Zebo gives chase and catches him, it could be carried back over the try-line, but Barnes calls for a 5m line-out.
Barnes peanlises Henshaw just as Rory Best winds up to plant the ball down off the dominant maul.
The ref-cam provides a damning verdict on Henshaw. He flies in to the side of the maul, ahead of the carrier.
Superb kicked pass from Sexton to Zebo. The wing takes the ball cleanly and attacks.
Sexton was so impressed with his first kick, that he bashes the ball back to the right wing, but Keith Earls can’t get his hands on the high pill.
It’s called a knock-on and Ireland have a 5m scrum in the right corner.
Another Sexton play is congested and the lack of space forced an error and a penalty against the green attack.
This match has been an utterly frustating watch from about the 10 minute mark on.
Less than three minutes on the clock and Ireland are stuck inside their 22….
So stuck that Faletau gets a chargedown, causes havoc and big Jamie Roberts bundles over the line.
TRY! Wales 22 Ireland 9 (Roberts’ 78)
That’s the game and the Championship lost for Ireland.
Over to you, Scotland.
FULL-TIME: Wales 22 Ireland 9