Ireland shock Wales in opener
Ireland shock Wales in openerSHARE
Ireland, on the back of a sublime first half, beat defending champions Wales 30-22 in the opening match of the 2013 Six Nations championships.
Taking a 20-point (23-3) lead into the half-time break, the Irish were made to hang on desperately against e fast-finishing Welsh outfit in the end.
However, the Irish defence held firm and won the day.
Declan Kidney's men raced into 30-3 lead – thanks to first-half tries from Simon Zebo and Cian Healy, to go with a Brian O'Driscoll early in the second half.
The game appeared dead and buried, but Wales fought back with touchdowns of their own from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell.
However, it was not enough as Ireland hung on, and Declan Kidney's men can now look forward to welcoming England to the Aviva Stadium next week, while wounded Wales face a daunting trip to France.
Wales made a bright start at the Millennium Stadium but Ireland quickly took control of the encounter.
They launched a sustained period of pressure and they raced into the lead thanks to a bit of magic from veteran centre O'Driscoll.
After Rob Kearney fixed the Welsh defence with a clever dummy run, the Leinster legend mesmerised them to send Zebo into the corner.
Sexton slotted the conversion and Ireland continued to exert their dominance on the encounter, threatening the Welsh whitewash on several occasions.
Ireland settled for a Sexton penalty on 21 minutes, as Andrew Coombs came in from the side and was fortunate to escape a yellow card.
Within a matter of minutes the visitors extended their lead further when Dan Biggar, making his first appearance in the Six Nations, saw his clearance charged down by Rory Best, who re-gathered.
Best found Heaslip in support and the ball was flung to Zebo, who demonstrated sublime footballing ability to flick it into his hands.
The Munster wing was held by Halfpenny but Peter O'Mahony and Craig Gilroy maintained the pressure and Healy drove over.
Sexton added the extras and slotted a second penalty to stretch Ireland's lead to 20 points before Halfpenny hit back with Wales' first points.
The hosts rallied in the closing stages of the half but they were unable to turn pressure into points and they were punished for their inaccuracy with a Sexton penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Ireland took a giant stride towards victory within minutes of the restart, as they hammered at Wales' line and O'Driscoll dived through a gap for a crucial try.
Sexton again added the extras but the score sparked Wales into life and they launched a comeback as Cuthbert hit an inside line off Biggar to race under the sticks.
Halfpenny converted and Wales continued to pile the pressure on the visitors.
They camped themselves in Irish territory and Ireland fought with their lives to hang on, with Rory Best shown yellow for killing the ball.
Howley's men quickly capitalised on their numerical advantage with Jon Davies and Roberts combining with Halfpenny on the wing.
The gutsy fullback had it all to do but he finished superbly to give his side a glimmer of hope.
Wales continued to dominate both territory and possession but they were unable to break Ireland's fiercely committed defence.
Toby Faletau came close after bursting through the Irish but he was held agonisingly short and Conor Murray was shown yellow for killing the ball.
But Howley's men eventually earned their breakthrough thanks to the help of the video ref, who gave a try when Craig Mitchell dived over just minutes after coming off the bench.
Halfpenny converted but Wales were still left requiring eight points from the final five minutes.
They threw everything at Ireland in a frenetic closing period but it was not enough as Ireland hung on.
Man of the match: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts and George North showed their value when the game opened up in the second half. Toby Faletau also had some really big carries in the second half. However, that horror story of the first half cost them the game. Then there was Brian O'Driscoll, with his creative skills and ability to make this happen – including a crucial close-range try in the second half and then playing scrumhalf when Conor Murray was yellow carded. However, our award goes to Ireland hooker Rory Best, for his high work-rate and constant harassing of the Welsh – including a charge down that led to Cian Healy's try and a crucial penalty turnover late in the first half. Despite his yellow card midway through the second half, he was Ireland's most productive player.
Moment of the match: The opening try, when Simon Zebo when over after phenomenal hands from O'Driscoll to put the wing away is worth mentioning. However, our award goes to a moment of sublime skill – when Irish wing Simon Zebo back-heeled the ball into his own hands in the lead-up to Cian Healy's try. It was stupendous in its audacity, but showed the pure skill of the flyer.
Villain of the match: Nobody. You may be tempted to give of to the two players who were yellow carded – Rory Best and Conor Murray – but it was accumulative penalties by the team rather than anything nasty they did.
Tries: Cuthbert, Halfpenny, Mitchell
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Tries: Zebo, Healy, O'Driscoll
Cons: Sexton 3
Pens: Sexton 3
Yellow cards: Rory Best (Ireland 58 – repeated infringements at the breakdown), Conor Murray (Ireland, 70 – repeated breakdown infringements)
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Craig Mitchell, 18 Paul James, 19 Olly Kohn, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Liam Williams, 22 Scott Williams, 23 James Hook.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (captain), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O'Gara, 23 Keith Earls.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Pascal Gauzere (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
AFP & rugby365