|ix Nations international – Wales v Ireland|
|Wales (8) 22|
|Tries: North 2, Roberts Cons: Halfpenny 2 Pens: Halfpenny|
|Ireland (6) 9|
|Pens: Sexton 2, Jackson|
Wales survived an Ireland fightback to claim a pressure-relieving win and hand England a chance to clinch the Six Nations title against Scotland.
Wing George North scored two tries as the hosts opened up a nine-point lead early in the second half in Cardiff.
Ireland, inspired by Johnny Sexton, almost turned the game on its head.
Wales repulsed waves of attacks before Jamie Roberts clinched the victory with a 78th-minute try after Taulupe Faletau’s charge down.
The defeat handed a potentially fatal blow to Ireland’s championship challenge with England able to secure the title if they beat the Scots at Twickenham on Saturday at 16:00 GMT.
Joe Schmidt’s side paid a high price for a yellow card handed to Sexton which saw Wales score 10 points in six minutes either side of half-time.
And, after a week which saw Wales coach Rob Howley talk about redemption, North in particular answered criticism with his best performance for Wales in some time.
Ireland contributed much to a brutal encounter, but could not cross Wales’ try-line despite long periods of pressure.
And a mistake by centre Robbie Henshaw at a driving maul which handed Wales a penalty when they looked certain to concede effectively ended Ireland’s hopes.
Rejuvenated North at the double
North looked like a player rejuvenated in the opening stages, clattering through Rob Kearney and looking a threat whenever he received the ball.
His endeavour was rewarded in the 19th minute when Rhys Webb and Scott Williams combined before the scrum-half’s long pass found Halfpenny who fed North.
Faced with three defenders, the Northampton wing blasted through them to score with a bellow of delight. It was like 2012 all over again.
Sexton’s ability to pick off Dan Biggar passes was a problem for Wales who were also second best in the aerial battle.
Halfpenny and Paddy Jackson – on briefly for a dazed Sexton – exchanged penalties as Wales reached half-time ahead and with the busy Sexton in the sin-bin for Ireland.
Numbers game pays
Ireland found themselves nine points behind within four minutes of the restart as Webb fed an unmarked North for a second try, which Halfpenny converted from the touchline.
Sexton’s return marked a change in momentum, and his second penalty threatened another second-half heartache for Wales after losing leads against England and Scotland.
But they withstood immense pressure in a tumultuous Principality Stadium with Ireland just failing to turn a number of dangerous aerial bombs into points.
And when Henshaw’s rush of blood let Wales off the hook they forced Ireland back and it was another attempted Sexton kick which replacement Faletau charged down to let fellow replacement Roberts crash over at the posts and raise the closed roof.
Man of the Match
Rhys Webb created North’s first try and handed him his second on a plate – fair call, I suppose.
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Wales: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-George North, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Scott Williams, 11-Liam Williams, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Rhys Webb; 1-Rob Evans, 2-Ken Owens, 3-Tomas Francis, 4-Jake Ball, 5-Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 6-Sam Warburton, 7-Justin Tipuric, 8-Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: 16-Scott Baldwin, 17-Nicky Smith, 18-Samson Lee, 19-Luke Charteris, 20-Taulupe Faletau, 21-Gareth Davies, 22-Sam Davies, 23-Jamie Roberts.
Ireland: 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Simon Zebo, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 1-Jack McGrath, 2-Rory Best (captain), 3-Tadhg Furlong, 4-Donnacha Ryan, 5-Devin Toner, 6-CJ Stander, 7-Sean O’Brien, 8-Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: 16-Niall Scannell, 17-Cian Healy, 18-John Ryan, 19-Iain Henderson, 20-Peter O’Mahony, 21-Kieran Marmion, 22-Paddy Jackson, 23-Tommy Bowe