Rugby: Ireland maintain perfect start in wild win over Wales

Sports Saturday 24/February/2018 22:35 PM
By: Times News Service
Rugby: Ireland maintain perfect start in wild win over Wales

Dublin: Ireland maintained their perfect Six Nations start on Saturday but were made to sweat for it in a frantic 37-27 victory over Wales that kept them on track for a potential final day championship and Grand Slam decider against England.
Trailing by eight points at one stage in a first half they otherwise utterly dominated, Ireland led by two scores midway through the second before weathering a Welsh comeback stopped in its tracks by an intercepted Jacob Stockdale try at the death.
"We had to sweat to survive that, it was a really tough game. It's a credit to this team, that's two dramatic finishes," Ireland centre Chris Farrell, man of the match in his Six Nations debut, said in a pitchside interview.
After starting the tournament hampered by injuries, Wales welcomed back three British and Irish Lions while Ireland lost three of their own. However, it was the hosts who were left to rue a wasteful opening 20 minutes.
Johnny Sexton uncharacteristically missed three early kicks at goal, the first a simple chance to trade early penalties with Leigh Halfpenny, although he made up for it with a pinpoint, long skip pass that sent Stockdale in for the opening try.
The Ireland flyhalf failed to land the conversion and missed another straightforward penalty, the third Wales conceded inside the first 13 minutes having given away just two in the entirety of their defeat to England.
Ireland were also lacking discipline and giving away turnovers, the second in a matter of minutes allowing Gareth Davies to sprint in and Halfpenny, having far fewer issues with his boot, soon extended the advantage to eight points.
However Ireland quickly regrouped, first handing Sexton a chance to finally get on the board before pummelling the Welsh defence for Bundee Aki to score and end a wild half they turned 76 percent of possession into just a two-point lead.
Joe Schmidt's side were intent not to make the same mistake twice and looked like they might have put the game out of sight inside the first 13 minutes of the second half.
Their ability to effortlessly change the point of attack was dizzying for the visitors' defence as smart breaks from Keith Earls and Rob Kearney, followed by more intense forward pressure put flanker Dan Leavy in for his first Six Nations try.
Firmly camped inside the Welsh half, it was only a matter of time before the bonus point try came and prop Cian Healy duly obliged.
But Wales were not done and a converted Aaron Shingler try - their first sniff at the Irish line in the second period - cut the deficit to a one-score game.
Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray, taking over kicking duties from a limping Sexton, appeared to have settled it again with a penalty five minutes from time but another try from Steff Evans frayed some Irish nerves, settled by Stockdale's interception.