Wales take deserved win as Irish let late advantage slip

[caption id="attachment_69586" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Ireland’s Sean O’Brien is tackled by Huw Bennett of Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin."]


IRELAND could so easily have blamed some highly controversial decisions on the part of the English match officials for their 23-21 opening Six Nations Championship defeat by Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

Without doubt, the visiting forward Bradley Davies should have received a red card for a dangerous second-half spear tackle on Donnacha Ryan. Instead, the second-row only received a yellow card after referee Wayne Barnes consulted with touch judge Dave Pearson .

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To add fuel to the situation, Barnes then controversially awarded Wales what proved to be the match-winning penalty in final minute. He deemed that Stephen Ferris’s tackle on Ian Evans was dangerous.

But, to most people’s minds, it was the earlier decision was an extremely harsh call. Even Warren Gatland, the Welsh coach, admitted that Davies was lucky not to have received a red card.

For all that, there’s the undeniable fact that, on the balance of play, Wales deserved their victory. Yet, the Irish team and fans left the Aviva Stadium deeply frustrated, not only due to the bad decisions on the part of the officials but also because Ireland blew a great chance of victory.

It would not have mattered too much that they were a long way short of their best. The important thing was to get the win that would have provided some impetus for the Six Nations campaign.

Instead, Ireland must travel to Paris to face World Cup runners-up France this Saturday night, with the prospect of two consecutive defeats in their opening matches. Last Sunday’s events appears to have destroyed Ireland’s Six Nations ambitions.

At least there was a realization in the Irish camp that there’s no point in blaming everything on the officials. Even allowing for those decisions, Ireland were totally in charge of their own destiny as the game entered the closing stages.

Ahead 21-15 with seven minutes remaining, Ireland decided that Johnny Sexton should take a kick at goal from just inside his own half. Many would have felt that the correct decision was to kick into the corner and keep the pressure on the Welsh.

Either way, Ireland did regain possession after Sexton’s attempt went wide. Paul O’Connell brilliantly secured the ball from the drop out only for Ireland then to be penalized after Sean OíBrien found himself isolated.

That, to my mind, was the winning and losing of the match. At that point, with five minutes remaining, Ireland only had to keep possession to make certain of victory.

To give Wales their due, they seized their opportunity. Initially, their powerful wing George North got over for a try before Leigh Halfpenny kicked the winning penalty in the final minute.

Of course, Halfpenny was given that chance by a highly questionable refereeing decision. But the point must also be made that Wales had moved, or were moving to a position, where they could have easily landed a match-winning drop goal.

As skipper Paul OíConnell stated afterwards: “We had put ourselves in with a great chance of winning. We had a bit of work to do to see that game out, and we didn’t do it.”

Coach Declan Kidney is always going to choose his words carefully. Typically, he refused to comment on the referee’s decisions, preferring instead to concentrate on what Ireland can do better for the French match.

And the answer to that is an awful lot. “I know we are a lot better than that,” insisted Kidney. “We have buckets of work to do and six days to do it.”

“We had to defend for 60 percent plus of the game and, if you do that, you are in trouble,” That’s exactly what happened as Wales ran in three tries to Ireland’s two.

Unfortunately, they were helped by some poor tackling on the part of the Irish team. Somehow though, Ireland managed to lead 13-5 at half time, despite the fact that Wales had dominated possession.

They led 3-0 with an early Sexton penalty before Wales deservedly went in front through Jonathan Davies’s first try. That’s how it stayed until Ireland produced their best move of the game, with Tommy Bowe sending hooker Rory Best in for a try.

Sexton’s conversion made it 10-5 and the same player then added a penalty to give Ireland their 13-5 interval advantage. But Wales came roaring back with a penalty from Halfpenny before the hugely impressive North powering through a suspect Irish defence to set up Jonathan Davies for his second try.

Halfpenny’s conversion made it 15-13 in the visiting team’s favor, only for Sexton to regain his goalkicking touch to pick a penalty and leave Ireland 16-15 in front. Thatís when the controversy started with the decision 20 minutes from time not to send off Bradley Davies for a blatant spear tackle.

Still, Wales were down to 14 men for 10 minutes because of the yellow card, and Ireland did initially take advantage with full-back Rob Kearney sending Bowe over for a try in the corner and Sexton then adding a penalty.

At 21-15 that should have been that but sadly they just could not go through with their effort. Okay, the decision to penalize Ferris and yellow card him was very harsh but, in truth, Ireland should never have found themselves in that position.