North double ends Irish dreams
SIX NATIONS REPORT: George North scored a double as Wales ended Ireland's dream of winning the Six Nations.
Outscoring the Irish by three tries to none, Wales won 22-9 and ensured that England can wrap up the Championship when they face Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday.
It was a classic Test match in Cardiff on Friday - with brutal defending, some sublime skill and the intensity that you have come to expect from the Six Nations.
It was simply a thrilling, all-action match and the action lasted right up to the final whistle. With seconds to go, Wales had a scrum. Ireland won a tighthead and ran. Wales won a turnover and ran, till a bit of a knock-on brought the final whistle. It was that sort of match. It had started with players running and passing and it ended that way.
Ireland won the first turnover of the match and Jonathan Sexton gave Simon Zebo a great pass. When Rhys Webb tackled high and Sexton goaled the difficult kick. 3-0 after 6 minutes.
The Welsh went through many phases while the Irish tackled with great purpose. During the match both sides went through bouts of phases. At one stage in the second half Ireland turned on a period of 26 phases. But none of the phases produced a try. The three tries in the match each came from sudden action, not predictable phase play.
Ireland looked promising when CJ Stander went charging down the left touchline, getting past two defenders. A penalty gave Ireland a five-metre line-out but they lost the line-out when Alun Wyn Jones won the ball.
Ireland had three five-metre line-outs in the match and failed to score from them.
Wales's first try was the best of the match. It started at a line-out on their left. Sam Warburton won the line-out and Ross Moriarty came away with the ball. He gave to Webb who gave to Scott Williams. The centre burst ahead and gave back to Webb on his inside. Webb threw a long pass with his left hand to Leigh Halfpenny who did well to collect the dipping ball, The fullback gave to George North on the right wing and he cut inside Keith Earls and powered over for a brilliant try. 5-3 after 20 minutes.
Ireland had a period of intense dominance. A penalty gave them a line-out and they mauled and bashed. Wales collapsed the maul and Ireland had a five-metre line-out. They mauled but the Welsh resistance was stout till Ireland again had a penalty in easy distance from the posts. Paddy Madigan, on because Sexton was having a head injury assessment, goaled and after 27 minutes, Ireland led 6-5.
Sexton came back after his assessment found no concussion but he was off again when he was penalised for a tackle offence on the Ireland line. Wales had been advancing with pick-'n-drive on their right and then Webb kicked a long diagonal to his left. It was a perfect pick that landed in the arms of Liam Williams who gave quickly to Halfpenny on his inside. Halfpenny gave to powerful Jonathan Davies whom Sexton stopped on the line. Sexton stayed on the ball and for this was sin-binned. Halfpenny kicked the penalty goal and Wales were back in the lead at 8-6 after 38 minutes. That was the half-time score.
Wales extended their lead early in the second half. They went through 14 phases and then Webb chipped down to the Irish goal-line. Conor Murray was back to get the bouncing ball but Halfpenny forced him into touch. That gave Wales a five-metre line-out. They mauled and then suddenly Webb came right with the ball. He gave to unmarked North who scored. Halfpenny converted from far out. 15-6 after 45 minutes.
The next try was 34 minutes later but they were not a barren 34 minutes. Wales attacked and only great skill and courage by Rob Henshaw prevented the scoring of a try. Ireland went through 26 phases and kicked a penalty out six metres from the Welsh line. The defence was stern and brave and the Irish settled for a penalty goal. 15-9 after 56 minutes.
Wales came on counterattack and Biggar dropped for goal, but the ball struck an upright and bounced away for a drop-out.
It was Ireland's turn to attack and Henshaw grubbered towards the Welsh line. Half-penny saved but conceded a five-metre line-out. Ireland mauled and seemed about to score when the referee penalised Henshaw for joining ahead of the ball-carrier.
Time was running out but victory, so desirable, was still possible. Ireland passed inside their own 22 while Wales came up in eager defence. Then Sexton decided to kick. Taulupe Faletau charged down the kick. Jamie Roberts grabbed the ball and powered his way over for a try at the posts as Sexton and Ryan sought to stop him. Halfpenny converted. 22-9 after 79 minutes.
Man of the Match: Wales deserved to win and they deserved to have the Man of the Match. In out minds it was close amongst Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Rhys Webb and Sam Warburton and our choice has fallen to George North for his general involvement in the game and his two tries.
Moment of the Match: Wales's first try.
Villain of the Match: Nobody.
Tries: North 2, Roberts
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Sexton 2, Jackson
Yellow card: Jonathan Sexton (Ireland, 38 - cynical foul killing the ball in the tackle)
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Christiaan Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 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 (England)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)