Wales put one hand on the Six Nations trophy when they beat Ireland 16-12 at Croke Park.
Having claimed the Triple Crown (for beating the other Home Unions), Warren Gatland’s men will win the Grand Slam if they beat France in Cardiff next weekend. That would be an incredible achievement for a side that failed to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup last year.
This was an absorbing Test match despite the lack of tries.
Ireland, playing into the wind, took an early 6-0 lead after two penalties from flyhalf Ronan O’Gara, with opposite number Stephen Jones missing his first attempt at goal.
The hosts enjoyed most of the possession in the first quarter and almost went further ahead when Shane Horgan threw a dummy and cut back inside, before being brought to ground by Wales scrumhalf Mike Phillips. Horgan’s momentum looked to have carried him over, but the TMO correctly ruled the winger had planted the ball just short of the tryline before knocking on. Had Ireland scored then, the result could have been very different.
Jones finally put Wales on the board with a penalty, but missed another that would have levelled the scores. The visitors dominated the second quarter, giving their backs plenty of ball and using the full width of the field. Twice Wales broke the Irish line, only to be bundled into touch and then forced into making a knock on.
While the Dragons deserved a try, they were awarded a penalty right in front of the posts just before half-time. But the touch judge had spotted Phillips driving his knee into Brian O’Driscoll’s back in an off-the-ball incident and the scrumhalf was sent to the sin-bin. That cost Wales three points (the penalty was reversed) and reduced them to 14 men for the first 10 minutes of the second half.
However, Wales came out strongly after the break with Jones making it 6-all with his second penalty. The visitors then took the lead on the 50-minute mark when winger Shane Williams shrugged off a pathetic tackle from Andrew Trimble to score in the corner. Jones slotted the touchline conversion.
The visitors lost momentum at the start of the final quarter when Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip broke the line and Wales flank Martyn Williams was yellow-carded for a foot trip on scrumhalf Eoin Reddan. O’Gara kicked the resultant penalty and added another soon after to make it a one-point ball game.
But Ireland lost O’Driscoll to injury and a third penalty from Jones, with five minutes to go, sealed the win for Wales.
Ireland â€“ Penalties: Ronan O’Gara (4).
Wales â€“ Try: Shane Williams. Conversion: Stephen Jones. Penalties: Jones (3).
By Simon Borchardt