After an unbearably long… two months (is that all?) international rugby is back in our lives in the form of that grand old tournament, the Six Nations.
Kicking off the seven-week festival of rugby is perhaps the most appetising fixture in the competition. Wales versus Ireland rarely disappoints in terms of drama, so buckle up as we take you through the game with minute-by-minute coverage.
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Wales 22 – 30 Ireland
12.36 – Good afternoon, rugby fans.
As you can see from our main pic, Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad have already been out and about in the Welsh capital this morning. Using the green patch in front of Cardiff Castle to practice a few of those top secret line-out calls.
How are your nerves?
12.48 – Here are your teams. First, the hosts and reigning champions complete Andrew Coombs benefiting from the second row crisis. and ‘Sam the captain’ at openside flanker ahead of the man many feel is the best Welsh seven, Justin Tipuric.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Aaron Shingler; Ian Evans, Andrew Coombs; Adam Jones, Matthew Rees, Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Paul James, Craig Mitchell, Olly Kohn, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Scott Williams.
12.53 – And in the green corner…
A side with a blend of youth and experience as Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy are retained from the impressive win over Argentina at the expense of Keith Earls, Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald and Andrew Trimble.
Apparently with a view to attacking the rickety Welsh line-out, Peter O’Mahony is preferred to Chris Henry in the back row.
Jamie Heaslip makes his third Test appearance as Ireland captain.
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Craig Gilroy, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Donnacha Ryan, Mike McCarthy; Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt)
Replacements: Dave Kilcoyne, Sean Cronin, Declan Fitzpatrick, Donncha O’Callaghan, Chris Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ronan ‘O’Gara, Keith Earls.
12.56 – We’re just over 30 minutes from the starting gun in Cardiff. Just enough time to get your blood pumping with these eight pre-match suggestions from Paul Fennessy. it includes a little bit of this…
13.17 – Just 10 minutes before anthem-time and the RTE panel are shouting about the tight-head situation. Michael Bent would wanna keep his ears plugged for the next few minutes.
13.27 – Right, we’ve put away our obligatory pre-match potato and leek pie, the flags are unfurled and the flames in the Millennium Stadium are read to rise.
George Hook conjures the spirit of Nostradamus before siding with the bookies, predicting Wales tow in by two.
Last chance to make a prediction?
Maybe it’s the tea talking, but I reckon Ireland will close it out by less than three.
13.35 – We’ve had Ireland’s Call and Wales, as ever, are in fine voice with their anthem (*Googles*) Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.
Time for kick off as Ryle Nugent observes that only a small smattering of Irish fans have made the short trip across the sea.
Let’s hope the crowd have no bearing on the next 80 minutes. Romain Poite will, he whistles the start of hostilities.
KICK-OFF: Biggar lofts a kick to Gilroy who claims well, before Murray box-kicks
13.37 – Halfpenny claimed Murray’s high ball well, and Wales soon target Gilroy again.
This time it rebounds off his shoulder and Wales are awarded a free-kick for early engagement.
They soon turn over though and Sexton spins the ball wide to O’Mahony who makes good ground up the left flank.
Ireland move it left and Gilroy makes further territory before Sexton dinks one into the Welsh 22.
13.39 – After Wales clear, Ireland’s first line-out goes perfectly, Heaslip rising in the middle to take Best’s throw.
Ireland drift right, but can’t find a gap and BOD attempts a speculative kick that goes out on the full.
13.41 – The first penalty goes again Ryan after a Sexton Garryowen was claimed by Halfpenny ahead of Kearney. Interesting Lions duel, that.
13.42 – And just like that, the scrum count is one all as Gethin Jenkins is pinged at the scrum. Sexton moves the green army back into the Welsh half.
13.45 – Exciting. Ireland set a maul off the line-out and before it halts, Sexton skips a pass to O’Driscoll, who immediately flings it right, it’s marginally behind Kearney but he continues into space and give Gilroy another go at North.
The Ulster wing offloads, but the move is halted by a Welsh knock on.
13.45 – TRY: Wales 0 – 7 Ireland (Zebo ’10)
Just when we felt that the Munster wing wasn’t getting a touch, Ireland’s scrum launches a terrific back line move from right to left.
With a ruck set in front of the posts, Murray got to the base and continues the quick ball. O’Driscoll took the ball in five metres from the line and got his arms free to deliver the perfect pass to Zebo cruising into the corner.
Sexton drives the conversion over over with minimum fuss.
13.50 – Well, that was pretty awesome, eh? A touch of magic from O’Driscoll. How much longer will we be able to enjoy that?
13.52 – Ireland’s pack is right on top of this. Wales’ scrum collapses in midfield and Poite penalises Jones. Ross comes away grimacing, but I’d say he’ll be alright.
… just as the compliment goes, in, Ireland’s line-out goes awry, but as Wales move it quickly in their own 22 they over run it and Best will get another go.
13.54 – Ireland rumble forward again and Gilroy comes very close to another wing score.
The big boys take over with the line inches away, but Wales succeed in stagnating the move. Ireland’s scrum v.
This is going well.
13.57 – New kid Andrew Coombs should count himself lucky not to be in the bins as he comes in all the way through the side and slows the ball down.
Penalty coming, but Sexton attempts a drop goal…. and somehow misses from 15 yards.
PENALTY: Wales 0 – 10 Ireland (Sexton ’20)
14.00 – TRY: Wales 0 – 15 Ireland (Healy ‘ 23)
The prop grounded the try, but the whole world will be talking about the part Simon Zebo played in it. Conor O’Shea is picking his jaw off the floor after the Munster wing prevented a mis-placed pass killing the move by chipping the ball off his ankle back into his hands.
The break came from Rory Best blocking down Biggar’s kick. The hooker’s pass looped wide and from there. It was Zebo’s class.
We’ll bring you the video as soon as we can.
14.05 – We’re excited about Zebo, but Ireland just keep on working.
PENALTY: Wales 0 – 20 Ireland (Sexton ’30)
14.07 – Your imagination will have to do the rest…
14.11 – PENALTY: Wales 3 – 20 (Halfpenny ’33)
The hosts finally get on the board through their fullback.
Ireland are hot, but it comes at a cost. Gordon D’Arcy is hobbling around and O’Driscoll already has his head taped up.
14.14 – Wales attempt to add a little bit of their special brand of frantic to open this game up and after a big Coombs carry, Wales are on the front foot with George North.
After Warburton carries, though, O’Brien does a magnificent job of slowing down. He doesn’t quite turn it over, but it allows the defence set up.
14.16 – A sustained period of defending for Ireland and the work pays off after O’Brien and Best force Roberts to hang onto the ball and the penalty goes Ireland’s way in front of the posts.
14.21 – Ireland carry into the red zone looking for one last score before half time. Sexton attempts to speed it up, but the red wall reads BOD’s run on the reverse angle. The move is stalled, but Ireland keep on coming and a red shirt is penalised for sealing off.
PENALTY Wales 3 – 23 Ireland (Sexton ’40)
14.22 – HALF TIME: Wales 3 – 23 Ireland
Wow. Who called that?
14.24 – Here’s a video (of a replay) of THAT moment from Zebo. The Tekkerz heard around the world.
14.28 – Stop the presses.
George Hook announces “This is the happiest I’ve been at half time in a long time.”
14.34 – Here comes the second half. More of the same, please.
14.37 – An ideal start to the half; a scrum on the Welsh 22. Heaslip carries onto the blind side and Wales looked ragged here.
A two probes across the red line and Ireland come back, almost score through Kearney before you know who pops up.
TRY: Wales 3 – 30 Ireland (O’Driscoll ’28)
14.39 – As the conversion sails over, Gordon D’Arcy is finally called ashore. Keith Earls is brought in to play centre.
Aaron Shingler is replaced on the opposite bench, Tipuric is in the game. A case of horse, bolted.
14.42 – The ref asks Heaslip to give Ross a talking to as Wales set up a five-metre line out.
It’s a messy attack, but they’re close here. Ireland will have a clean sheet in mind.
14.43 – TRY: Wales 10 – 30 Ireland (Cuthbert ’48)
Keith Earls is in the game cold and it showed as he rushes to the gain-line but miis-reads the winger’s line and Cuthbert goes over untouched.
14.48 – It seems like a consolation score for Wales, but they go roaring at the line again. Again, however, the defence holds.
Perhaps due to a knock, or maybe to counteract Tipuric, Chris Henry is in the game in place of O’Mahony.
14.50 – 53 mins. No need to panic (even if Ryle is). But Wales have started to make steady process in the recent collisions. This period was bound to come, Chillax.
14.52 – Another penalty against Ireland (Ryan) and Phillips throws a strop as he’s not allowed to quick tap.
The ball is drilled to the corner. Big moment for Ireland now. Can they hang on in these phases?
14.55 – The hosts come close as they pick out North steaming to the right. It takes three men to take him down.
Penalty advantage quick-tapped, but Sexton rushes up to wrap up Tipuric. Wales come back to the left but the move is halted instantly by a massive hit from Craig Gilroy on Halfpenny.
14.58 – SIN BIN: Rory Best is in the bin, he has to watch from the lines as Wales go to the corner again.
This time the numbers count, Roberts makes tacklers commit and Halfpenny plants down despite Zebo’s best effort.
After a quick TMO…
TRY: Wales 15 – 30 Ireland (Halfpenny ’58)
14.59 – The gap remains 15 as the fullback’s kick drifts the near side of the posts. 20 minutes to go, Ireland are a man down and need some possession to settle game here.
15.02 – Wales winning every breakdown exchange now, blowing Ireland away in contact and romping forward. The hosts create an overlap for Cuthbert on the right and Kearney has to take the full force to put him down.
That intervention slows the move down enough for Healy to get over the ball on the next phase and win a penalty.
15.04 – Extra points for Sean O’Brien throwing the ball in at the line-out. He manages to come round the outside of that set-piece and run straight at Halfpenny. Credit the fullback for putting him down (which resulted in a penalty to Wales) but he’ll be feeling that for a while.
15.06 – O’Brien penalised for dragging Cuthbert down as he chips on. More defending to come. Cuthbert has been immense in this second half for Wales.
15.09 – Uncharacteristic knock on from Kearney on his own 22, seemed to come in underneath the dropping ball at the wrong angle and it bounced off his chest.
The scrum goes down quick and the Mike Ross is penalised. That will be his last part to play. Deccy Fitzpatrick is in as Wales pass up three points and go for the line-out.
15.12 – Romain Poite has lost the run of himself here.
Faletau looks to have placed the ball against the post, but he first waves play on and then give a penalty.
SIN BIN: Conor Murray exchanges places with Rory Best.
Scrum v to Wales and they need more than two converted scores in 10 minutes.
15.16 – An incredible defensive for from Ireland to keep Wales at bay. The stats team have brought up the number 152 in Ireland’s tackle column. The latest of them from Gilroy on Davies just was the hosts looked like they’d profit from another overlap.
15.18 – That Gilroy tackle forced a knock-on and Ireland were in possession. BOD’s box-kick to touch doesn’t go far and we’re back under the kosh.
Wales think they’ve score through Craig Mitchell. TMO.
15.19 – TRY: Wales 22 – 30 Ireland (Mitchell ’75)
The conversion is over and Ireland’s 14 men have four minutes to hold onto an eight point lead.
15.22 – Sexton’s restart is good and long. Ireland will look to pin the hosts in their 22, especially as all they want to do now is run the ball.
15.25 – Wales think they find a gap on the left, but Earls has the angle on George North and his chip on arrives into the hands of Zebo, who arches his back like the fast kid in school deliberately slowing down to give you a chance of catching him before speeding away.
That should be enough to see the game out.
15.27 – FULL TIME: Wales 22 – 30 Ireland
15.35 – Talk about a game of two halves. That was a sensational game of rugby and although Ireland were on the ropes for much of the second half, their first half display proved enough in the end.
Thanks for joining in the liveblog. We’ll bring you the post match reaction from Wales as soon as Deccie’s mouth stops flapping and you can give us all your views on the game over on our open thread, here.