Six Nations 2015: Wales 23-16 Ireland

By Dafydd Pritchard at the Millennium StadiumBBC Wales Sport
Six Nations 2015: Wales 23-16 Ireland Highlights
Wales (15) 23
Try: Scott Williams Pens: Halfpenny 5 Drop-goal: Biggar
Ireland (9) 16
Try: Penalty try Con: Sexton Pens: Sexton 3

Wales shattered Irish hopes of a Grand Slam and kept themselves in Six Nations title contention with a gripping win in Cardiff.

Leigh Halfpenny kicked Wales into an early 12-0 lead but three Johnny Sexton penalties cut Ireland's deficit to 15-9 in a pulsating first half.

Wales defended heroically after the restart, before Scott Williams scored a crucial try.

A late penalty try gave Ireland hope, but Wales held firm.

Wales may only have a slim chance of winning a fifth Six Nations title in 11 seasons, but this dramatic win against Ireland was a significant one.

And, after a week where coaches and former players spoke about their worry that rugby was becoming boring, this nerve-shredding match was the perfect riposte.

As reigning champions and current Six Nations leaders, Ireland were marginal favourites for this eagerly anticipated encounter.

Joe Schmidt paid tribute to the Welsh defence after the game

Their march to the top of the table had not been universally popular, however, with head coach Joe Schmidt's approach leading some commentators to describe their domination as dour.

In a start akin to Ireland's win over England, Wales stifled their opponents with ferocious physicality in defence and ruthless efficiency with the ball, racing into an early 12-0 lead thanks to four Halfpenny penalties.

Ireland eventually composed themselves and two Sexton penalties halved their deficit. A yellow card for Wales captain Sam Warburton seemed to swing the momentum in Ireland's favour, but a Dan Biggar drop-goal cancelled out another Sexton penalty to give Wales a 15-9 half-time lead.

Three-horse race
TeamPoints differenceFinal-day match
England+37France (h)
Ireland+33Scotland (a)
Wales+12Italy (a)
The title battle - who needs what?

Wales had to repel a torrent of Irish pressure with some bloody-minded defending. And when they eventually forced a turnover, their efforts were greeted by the kind of roar usually reserved for a World Cup win.

Buoyed by the sheer noise of the Millennium Stadium, Wales sparked into life as an attacking force and replacement centre Williams made the breakthrough as he feigned a pass and dived over.

Halfpenny missed his conversion, and Wales soon found themselves on the back foot again.

A rolling maul rumbled towards the Welsh try line and, after judging Wales to have brought it down illegally, referee Wayne Barnes awarded Ireland a penalty try.

Halfpenny eased Welsh nerves with a fifth penalty to make it 23-16, but the home crowd were given a tense finish when Davies was sin-binned with only two minutes left.

Wales prop Samson Lee is carried off the field with an injury to his left ankle after just 12 minutes
Wales prop Samson Lee is carried off the field with an injury to his left ankle after just 12 minutes
Wales captain Sam Warburton is shown a yellow card by referee Wayne Barnes
Ireland scored six points to Wales's three while captain Sam Warburton was in the sin bin during the first half
The loss for Ireland against Wales was their first in 11 internationals
The loss for Ireland against Wales was their first in 11 internationals

Wales: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-George North, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-Liam Williams, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Rhys Webb; 1-Gethin Jenkins, 2-Scott Baldwin, 3-Samson Lee, 4-Luke Charteris, 5-Alun Wyn Jones, 6-Dan Lydiate, 7-Sam Warburton (captain), 8-Toby Faletau.

Replacements: Jarvis for Lee (12), Evans for Jenkins (40), Hibbard for Baldwin (56), Williams for Roberts (59), Phillips for Webb (68), Tipuric for Lydiate (68), Ball for Wyn Jones (71), Baldwin for Hibbard (78).

Sin bin: Warburton (27), Davies (77).

Ireland: 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Jared Payne, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Simon Zebo, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 1-Jack McGrath, 2-Rory Best, 3-Mike Ross, 4-Devin Toner, 5-Paul O'Connell, 6-Peter O'Mahony, 7-Sean O'Brien, 8-Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Healy for McGrath (56), Reddan for Murray (62), Cronin for Best (62), Moore for Ross (62), Henderson for Toner (62), Murphy for Heaslip (71), Madigan for Sexton (74).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Touch judges: Jerome Garces (France) & Federico Anselmi (Argentina)

TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Match stats
Wales Ireland
7 (1)Scrums won (lost)3 (0)
7 (1)Line-outs won (lost)8 (4)
11Pens conceded12
82 (1)Rucks/mauls won (lost)169 (4)
29Possession kicked18
289 (22)Tackles made (missed)104 (15)
195Metres made461
4Line breaks3
Provided by Accenture

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