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Ireland's Grand Slam dream ended by ferocious Wales win in Cardiff

Joe Schmidt’s men were beaten in an enthralling encounter at the Millennium Stadium.

Wales 23

Ireland 16

Murray Kinsella reports from the Millennium Stadium

IRELAND’S GRAND SLAM dream ended with a 23-16 defeat to Warren Gatland’s impressively combative Wales at the Millennium Stadium.

Scott Williams scores a try Scott Williams dives in for Wales' crucial second-half try. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In an enthralling game in Cardiff, Wales’ sublime defensive effort repelled Ireland at crucial times, while their lineout got the better of Paul O’Connell’s pack on the day of the lock’s 100th cap.

The championship remains alive for Ireland, who travel to Edinburgh next weekend, but there will be disappointment on the journey home from Wales. That said, the hosts were worthy of their win, attacking incisively at crucial points and arguably bettering Ireland in the aerial battle.

Scott Williams’ second-half try was vital, but the kicking game of Leigh Halfpenny, as well as a drop goal from Dan Biggar did most of the damage for Gatland’s men.

Ireland simply struggled to truly cut the Welsh apart with ball in hand, despite a healthy share of the second-half possession in particular. The tryline stands were magnificent from the Welsh, but Schmidt will reflect on a lack of the final thrust when within striking distance.

The Welsh made a lightning start to the game, thundering into Irish tackles, competing successfully in the air and absolutely hammering bodies at ruck time. The combined effect was essentially a 12-0 lead with just 14 minutes gone, Halfpenny firing over four penalties.

Ireland struggled to get to grips with Barnes’ demands around the breakdown, particularly in releasing after the tackle and rolling away, O’Connell looking for clarity on both issues.

Schmidt’s men finally made an impression on the scoreboard in the 18th minute, Sexton kicking a penalty from 46 metres out shortly after missing one from a similar distance wide on the left.

Paul O'Connell beats Taulupe Faletau Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Momentum gradually shifting in their favour, O’Connell and Sexton opted to go to the corner with a quarter gone and Wales penalised for failing to roll away. Big moment you thought, but Sam Warburton leaped to steal in front of Devin Toner as Ireland threw to the tail.

The Welsh captain was soon in the sin bin though, Barnes losing patience when the openside illegally looked to turn Irish possession over at ruck time. Sexton rubbed salt in the wound by making it 12-6.

Wales stemmed Ireland’s growing influence by powerfully building to a 40-metre drop goal for Biggar, though there was frustration that the score stemmed from a harsh scrum penalty against Ireland inside the Wales half.

Ireland’s fluid attack brought them back on top again, O’Connell taking a cleverly delayed Sexton pass to break the impressive Welsh defence and draw another penalty. The out-half had no problem in making it 15-9.

After what had been a stuttering first-half in terms of the flow of the game, the second was one for the ages, both teams adapting to what Barnes wanted at the breakdown. That allowed longer passages of play.

With 50 minutes on the clock, Ireland kicked a penalty to touch on the right side of Wales’ 22 and launched a frankly incredible portion of the game.

Through 32 phases, Wales’ defence held up to the Irish battering of their tryline, hammering ball carriers back in the tackle. Ireland’s error-free attack was similarly astonishing, but they couldn’t find that crucial weak point, Liam Williams eventually being penalised for not releasing post-tackle.

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Alun Wyn Jones and Robbie Henshaw Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Again, Ireland built through the phases but Robbie Henshaw came in from the side to provide Wales with a relieving penalty.

In a now breathless contest, the inspirational Alun-Wyn Jones counter-rucked for a big turnover in midfield soon after, sending his side tearing back at Ireland through Jonathan Davies.

Tommy Bowe did well to halt the centre just short of the tryline, before Biggar wasted a notable overlap on the left by passing over three of his teammates’ heads and into touch.

Undeterred, Jones pinched the lineout and Wales take their turn to bludgeon at Ireland’s line, eventually firing a pass out to the backs, where replacement Scott Williams, just on for Jamie Roberts, got outside Jamie Heaslip to score.

Biggar converted with comfort to put Wales into an intimidating 20-9 lead, but Ireland responded swiftly. Iain Henderson was particularly impactful as Schmidt sent on a raft of substitutes, the Ulsterman’s restart win and carrying guiding Ireland close once again.

After Cian Healy had knocked-on with the tryline begging and Ireland with a major overlap on the right, Wales prop Aaron Jarvis conceded a penalty at the breakdown, allowing Ireland to kick to the corner. From there, the maul rumbled and Barnes did not hesitate with a penalty try when Wales dragged it down.

Sexton’s conversion brought Ireland back to 20-16 in an absorbing encounter, but a knock-on close to halfway as he looped off Healy brought to an end the next attacking chance.

Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny celebrate winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There was redemption of sorts for man of the match Warburton soon after as he won a sublime turnover penalty to allow Biggar to extend the Welsh lead to 23-16, but Ireland refused to let this game go.

They flooded forward again, Jonathan Davies being yellow carded for slapping down a pass in the Welsh 22 with 78 minutes gone. Into the corner Ireland went, with the nerves around the Millenium Stadium frayed beyond repair.

Charteris stole the first lineout over O’Connell, but Mike Phillips couldn’t get length on this touch finder. Back to the maul Ireland went, but in a huge final act of a defensive masterclass, Wales held it up for the turnover.

Ireland almost looked to have regain possession at the subsequent scrum, but Barnes delivered a final penalty against the men in green. Joy for the Welsh.

Wales scorers:

Try: Scott Williams

Conversion: Leigh Halfpenny

Penalties: Leigh Halfpenny [4 from 4]

Drop goal: Dan Biggar

Ireland scorers:

Try: Penalty try

Conversion: Johnny Sexton

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [3 from 4]

WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; George North, Jonathan Davies (YC ’78), Jamie Roberts (Scott Williams ’59), Liam Williams; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb (Mike Phillips ’68); Gethin Jenkins (Rob Evans ’40), Scott Baldwin (Richard Hibbard ’57, reversed ’79), Samson Lee (Aaron Jarvis ’13); Luke Charteris, Alun-Wyn Jones (Jake Ball ’72); Dan Lydiate (Justin Tipuric ’68), Sam Warburton (YC ’28), Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements not used: Rhys Priestland.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Johnny Sexton (Ian Madigan ’77), Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan ’63); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’57), Rory Best (Sean Cronin ’63), Mike Ross (Marty Moore ’63); Devin Toner (Iain Henderson ’63), Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (Jordi Murphy ’72).

Replacements not used: Felix Jones.

Referee: Wayne Barnes.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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