Wales 21 – Ireland 16
AN UNEVEN display by Wales, who spent 65 minutes of the game with an extra man, was enough to see of an Irish side which never stopped pressing for an against-the-odds win.
And the win is what counts.
In a punishing and physical encounter, Wales lost players to injury and head assessments, which might explain the up and down nature of their performance.
When Peter O’Mahony was given red on fifteen minutes for a headshot on Tomos Francis, Wales might have fancied their chances; especially with the benefit of a six-point lead, courtesy of Leigh Halfpenny’s reliable boot. The brutal physical exchanges favoured Ireland, who spoiled Welsh possession, tackled like demons, and played a territorial kicking game to pin Wales back in their own half.
That was enough for Ireland to chisel their way to a 13-6 lead at the half.
With O’Mahony off the pitch, Ireland scored thirteen unanswered points. Six from Sexton’s boot and a try from a Welsh mistake.
Ireland’s try came when Wales made a hash of their own put in at the lineout. Scruffy ball got to Henshaw, who carved a gap through Wales’ defence. His pass found Josh van der Flier, who powered on before being hauled down. From the resulting ruck, Tadhg Beirne forced his way over the Welsh line and Sexton added the routine extras.
The lead was no more than Ireland deserved. After a promising first ten minutes, Wales faded out of the game for the last twenty minutes of a rugged first half in which the sides traded heavy tackles. Having got sucked into a physical encounter, Wales missed out on the chance to spread the ball wide to make the best use of their one-man advantage. Hallam Amos, out on the blindside wing, barely touched the ball or received a pass in an attacking position.
The third quarter of the game was Wales’ best period of sustained play as they, at last, managed to get on the front foot. Some brutal tackling blunted Wales’ efforts, with Taulupe Faletau losing the ball in contact when well-placed.
However, tries from George North – who was impressive at outside centre – and Gloucester flyer Louis Rees-Zammit, with an acrobatic effort, were a fair reward for the Welsh team’s efforts. Those scores were enough to give Wales and 18-13 lead, which Leigh Halfpenny increased to eight points with a 65th-minute penalty.
With that lead, Wales brought on fresh legs for the final fifteen minutes.
Callum Sheedy stepped in at fly-half with Dan Biggar moving to full-back and Halfpenny switching to the left-wing in place of Hallam Amos. Will Rowlands came on in at lock, and Leon Brown and Rhodri Jones came on in the front row.
Billy Burns, on as HIA replacement for Robbie Henshaw only minutes before came on at fly-half to replace Johnny Sexton, with Sexton’s half-back partner Conor Murray leaving the field shortly afterwards.
Burns kicked a penalty to make it 21-16 with eight minutes left.
The outstanding Justin Tipuric, who played from the first whistle to last made a vital tackle in injury time at the end of the game, as Wales clung on to their five-point lead.
Ospreys number six Dan Lydiate waited two years for a call-up to Wales’ starting fifteen. His return lasted all of twelve minutes before what is thought to be a serious ligament injury.
The blow means he will miss the rest of Six Nations. In his place, substitute Josh Navidi, himself working his way back from injury, had a decent game but was some way from his rampaging best.
Wales also lost centre, Johnny Williams, to a head injury assessment (HIA), while scrum-half Tomos Williams left the field with a hamstring injury at the half. Near the end of the game, Hallam Amos also left the field for an HIA.
In exchange, Ireland lost lock Johnny Ryan and the talismanic Johnny Sexton, while Robbie Henshaw left the field for an HIA, returning after Sexton left the pitch.
The Welsh tight five looked a lot better in the scrum than they did throughout the autumn internationals. The return of Ken Owens certainly added heft to the front row, but the lineout problems which plagued Wales throughout 2020 persisted. Wales also lost the ball in contact too many times for comfort and that is an area they will need to tighten up against Gregor Townsend’s in-form Scotland team this Saturday.
PIVAC COUNTS THE COST OF VICTORY
After the game, Wales’ coach Wayne Pivac reflected on Wales’ performance.
“We’ve picked up a few injuries, so we’re looking at those now. We’re sort of counting the walking wounded after that one,” said Pivac.
“With a six-day turnaround before Scotland, it means any players with head knocks are gone. That means we’ll lose a couple of players straight away.
“Then we’ve got a hamstring for Tomos Williams, which we’re hoping is not serious. I wouldn’t have thought it will turn round in six days. We’ll see how the rest of the squad is tomorrow and look at what sort of side we can put together on Tuesday.”
If the injuries were the downside of the 21-16 victory, they couldn’t dent the pride Pivac and his coaching team felt at seeing their side upset one of the favourites for the title.
“It was game one, so to get off to a winning start was very important. It was a mixed performance, really. Our scrum went well, which was a big improvement on the last outing, but there are still things to tidy up on in our line-out on our ball.
“On their ball, we turned some over and put pressure on, so it was a mixed bag in that area of the game. It was our discipline which cost us last time when they kicked 18 points. That’s what got them back into this game and put pressure on us throughout.
“We really have to have a look at that area of the game and what’s causing those penalties. We must make sure we tidy that up.”
What did please the Wales boss, though, was the way Georg North and Louis Rees-Zammit took their tries in the second half to spearhead Wales’ second-half revival. It was try No 42 for Wales from North on his 99th appearance for his country.
“It was good to see them both cross and a really good finish from Louis. George just used his power and pace and took good advantage of that opportunity – you’d expect that from a player of his experience,” added Pivac.
“It was a fantastic finish from Louis. We’re just disappointed we put ourselves under so much pressure in the end. We could have won the game at the scrum put-in, looked at creating one phase, cleaning out that ruck and then kicking the ball out.
“But we put ourselves under a bit more pressure for another three to four minutes. We have discussed that in the changing room as well. In a game like that with the injuries, we did not really need that.
“The players had already called the play and knew what they needed to do to make one last ruck and get the ball out, but there was one player on the pitch who wasn’t on the same page and Ireland got the ball back. Unfortunately, it meant a lot more defending and a lot more out of the tank before a six-day turnaround.”
“We talked around our discipline and how important it was after the last time we played them, and I think after the sending off we conceded the next six penalties,” said Pivac.
“It was very difficult to get our hands on the ball and the possession and territory stats showed that right away. We talked about that at half-time and the third 20 minutes were a lot better and we managed to claw our way back into the game and get two scores ahead.
“To get a win in circumstances like today was important. Since taking over the role, it has really been about this competition. It was day one, round one and it was very important we got a win. Now we’ve got to re-focus before facing a very confident and very strong Scotland squad in their backyard after a very good win.”
Scarlets make five changes for Cardiff Blues clash
Scarlets show five changes to their starting line-up for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup clash with Cardiff Blues at Parc y Scarlets (15:00; Premier Sports),
Interim head coach Dai Flanagan has reshuffled his side, giving opportunities to centre Ioan Nicholas and lock Josh Helps.
It will be 23-year-old Nicholas’s first PRO14 appearance since October 2019, having been frustrated by injury this season. Helps comes into the starting XV for the first time since November.
In the back three there is one change with Johnny McNicholl replacing fellow Wales international Steff Evans on the left wing. The only other switch behind the scrum is the inclusion of NIcholas for Tyler Morgan to partner Jonathan Davies in midfield. Angus O’Brien and Kieran Hardy continue their half-back partnership.
Up front, Ryan Elias again swaps with Ken Owens and resumes the captaincy after leading the side for the first time in the opening round match against the Dragons. He packs down in between Rob Evans and Alex Jeffries, the scorer of the only try of the game in last weekend’s 22-6 win over the Ospreys.
Helps and Lewis Rawlins combine in the second row, while injuries to Blade Thomson and Uzair Cassiem see Ed Kennedy handed the No. 8 jersey. Kennedy, Aaron Shingler and Jac Morgan make up the back row.
There are two of Warren Gatland’s 2021 Lions selections on the bench in Ken Owens and Gareth Davies. Steff Thomas, Javan Sebastian, Morgan Jones, Iesyn Rees, Dan Jones and Joe Roberts provide the rest of the replacement cover.
Both the Scarlets and Blues have a win apiece after the opening two rounds of the Rainbow Cup.
Scarlets team v Cardiff Blues (Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup; Parc y Scarlets, Sat, May 15, 15:00 Premier Sports)
15 Leigh Halfpenny; 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ioan Nicholas, 11 Johnny McNicholl; 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Kieran Hardy; 1 Rob Evans, 2 Ryan Elias (capt), 3 Alex Jeffries, 4 Josh Helps, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 Jac Morgan, 8 Ed Kennedy.
Reps: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Iestyn Rees, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Joe Roberts.
Newtown hold on to beat Haverfordwest
NEWTOWN secured seventh place in the JD Cymru Premier Play-off conference as they beat Haverfordwest County 2-1 at the Bridge Meadow.
The Robins had beaten the Bluebirds 6-1 at Latham Park a few weeks ago but it was much different this time around.
Newtown took the lead as early as the second minute as they won a corner which was sent into the box for Tyrone Ofori who flicked the ball in.
The Bluebirds battled for a way back into the game and came close when the ball was played over the top for Jack Wilson but it just ran away and the Newtown keeper Dave Jones was able to gather the ball.
On 17 minutes, the Bluebirds won a corner which Elliot Scotcher sent into the box and Danny Williams headed in to the far corner to make it 1-1.
Newtown were then given a free kick in a dangerous position which captain Craig Williams sent into the box. Kieran Mills-Evans chested the ball down at the back post and Bluebirds keeper Wojciech Gajda made a good save to push the ball away.
There was another chance for Newtown soon after as Tyrone Ofori saw his header pushed wide by Gajda.
From the resulting corner, Shane Sutton headed home to put Newtown back in front.
The Bluebirds then had a chance to get level but Dan Summerfield sent a rasping drive just over the bar.
With half an hour gone, Alaric Jones sent a ball into the box but Corey Shephard saw his header saved by Dave Jones.
Both sides battled away with Scotcher sending a drive over from the edge of the box.
However it remained 2-1 to the visitors as the half time whistle went.
Newtown had a great chance to extend their lead at the start of the second half as Williams sent a corner into the box but Mills-Evans headed just wide.
The Bluebirds looked to get back in the game but despite getting into some promising positions, they were unable to test the Newtown keeper.
With twenty minutes to go a Bluebirds throw was headed on to the back post. Danny Williams headed towards goal and thought it had gone over the line but Dave Jones made a fantastic save to keep Newtown ahead.
Sub Cameron Keetch then had a great chance to level for the home side but he headed wide.
As the game entered the final stages, rain became harder making things difficult for both sides. Newtown were still searching for a third and nearly had it when the ball was played in to Breese into the box but he shot wide.
The Bluebirds were also looking for a late equaliser but as time ran out they resorted to long balls which Newtown were able to deal with.
The visitors kept the ball in the corner late on but the Bluebirds were able to get the ball out as they looked for one last chance.
It never came and the visitors held on to secure seventh place in the table.
Neyland through in Village Cup after beating Bronwydd
NEYLAND made it through to the next round of the Village Cup as they beat Bronwydd by 98 runs on Sunday (May 9).
No cricket had been possible in Pembrokeshire on Saturday because of heavy and persistent rain but some great work meant that their cup game could go ahead.
Before the game got underway, a minutes silence was held in respect of former Bronwydd CC player Aled John, who recently passed away.
Bronwydd won the toss and elected to field first which came as no surprise and they were able to restrict Neylad to a score of 160-9 in their 40 overs.
After losing Patrick Bellerby and Ashley Sutton early on, to the bowling of Clive Tucker, Neyland were sitting on a score of 23-2.
However, a stand of 54 between Nick Koomen and Brad McDermott-Jenkins put the hosts in a good position.
Koomen had reached 38 with six fours but he was then bowled by Josh Rencken and wickets continued to fall.
Nathan Banner departed for a second ball duck when he was bowled by Matthew Bagshaw and the same bowler then did the same to Ross Hardy.
McDermott-Jenkins had hit six fours in his score of 40 but he then fell to the bowling of Rencken and Neyand had slipped to 99-6.
Andrew Millers (1), George Evans (11) and Lewis Page all fell to the bowling of James Dickson as Neyland were in danger of being bowled out.
It was left to brothers Sean and Patrick Hannon to steady the ship as they shared 29 runs for the final wicket.
Both finished on scores of 15 not out with Sean hitting a six while Patrick’s score came from only 14 balls.
It meant that Bronwydd would need 161 to progress to the next round.
They made a steady start to their reply but when Josh Rencken was caught by Patrick Bellerby off the bowling of Nathan Banner on a score of 19, wickets began to tumble.
Jacob Jenkinson made a score of 15 but he was then stumped by Sean Hannon off the bowling of Andrew Miller.
Miller also picked up the wicket of Oliver Furneaux before Ross Hardy trapped James Dickson leg before to leave the visitors on 51-5.
Hardy then did the same to Carwyn Jones and he also bowled Iwan Davies as the game started slipping away for Bronwydd.
Miller then picked up his third to finish with figures of 3-11 from his eight overs while Hardy returned to pick up his fourth to finish with impressive figures of 4-5 from seven overs, five of which were maidens.
McDermott-Jenkins wrapped the game up with the wicket of Colin Tucker as the hosts secured an excellent win.
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