Inspired Wales crush Ireland’s title hopes – 6 Nations

Wales 22-9 Ireland

George North’s redemption led to Ireland’s fall at the Principality Stadium, as Wales crushed their opponents’ championship dreams with a pulsating 22-9 victory.

Johnny Sexton opened the scoring for Ireland with a sixth-minute penalty, but Wales roared back.

North crossed after 21 minutes, just after Sexton had left the field for a HIA following a collision with Jonathan Davies.

Paddy Jackson booted the visitors back in front but Wales finished the half strongly, Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty leaving them 8-6 ahead and Sexton, back after his assessment, sent to the bin after killing the ball on the line.

North crossed again early in the second half and when Conor Murray finally succumbed to an arm injury he sustained before the break, things looked bleak.

Sexton cut the deficit to 15-9 off the tee three minutes before the hour but Ireland couldn’t breach a superb home defence, and Jamie Roberts wrapped it up when he read Sexton’s attempted dink two minutes from time, trotting over to spark wild celebrations and end all realistic hopes of a title showdown with England in Dublin next week.

Conor Murray played for a large part of the game with a shoulder injury.

Joe Schmidt’s side settled far better than a nervy looking Wales, Sexton nailing a sixth-minute penalty following Rhys Webb’s high tackle on Robbie Henshaw.

But, slowly, the Dragons bared their claws.

After a cumbersome first ten minutes the expected intensity came in waves.

North – singled out for particular criticism in the wake of the defeat to Scotland – barrelled over the line on 21 minutes after excellent combination play between Rhys Webb and Jonathan Williams.

With the natives in full voice and the noise bouncing off every corner of the stadium, Ireland stayed cool.

Sexton was forced off due to an accidental clash with Davies, the Leinster man taking a knee to the head, but Jackson once again proved an able deputy.

On the half-hour mark, Conor Murray was left writhing on the turf after taking a tackle awkwardly, North falling on the Munster No 9 who appeared to injure his left arm.

Robbie Henshaw battles for the ball.

He essentially played the final ten minutes of the half one-handed but looked unlikely to emerge for the second period.

To compound that, Wales finished the half strongly, and when Sexton was found guilty of killing the ball on the line, Wayne Barnes showed him yellow. Leigh Halfpenny took his penalty, and Wales took the lead.

Murray actually came back out for the second half but he didn’t look right, being caught in possession on his own five-metre line on 43 minutes.

From that lineout, Webb released North on the wing and found space to dot down.

Halfpenny converted and, with Murray finally conceding that his night was over, Ireland were left with a mountain to climb.

Sexton’s return couldn’t come soon enough as the men in red turned the screw.

Excellent Kieran Marmion defending forced Ross Moriarty into touch as the Welsh went through the phases but when Ireland won a penalty off the maul, the tables turned.

Sexton kicked to the halfway line and the visitors went through phase after phase, finally winning a penalty after a high tackle on Garry Ringrose, allowing Sexton to cut the deficit to six.

George North crashes over one of his trys.

The pace was frantic.

When Wales tried to clear from behind their own line in the 67th minute, Ireland  blocked it down. Tadgh Furlong gathered five metres from home but he fumbled after a tackle, and the hosts got off the hook.

Three minutes later, after a Henshaw grubber, Zebo forced Halfpenny into touch. From the lineout, a wall of green edged towards the line but Henshaw tore in from the side and gave up the penalty.

Opportunities arose for Ireland, but untimely errors cost them time and again.

Finally, having weathered the storm, Wales extinguished all hope.

Sexton tried a little dink that Roberts read like a book. He gathers and barged over and Halfpenny converted. Game over. Championship all but over.

Ireland will most likely play England not for the title, but pride.

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