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Sports

Ireland beat Wales in Six Nations opener

© AFP file photo

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-02-02

Ireland defeated Wales 30-22 in a dramatic Six Nations opener on Saturday. It was the eight defeat in a row for title-holders Wales.

Ireland mixed panache with power to beat Wales 30-22 in a pulsating opening match of the Six Nations on Saturday, condemning the beleaguered holders to an eighth straight loss and already leaving their title defense in disarray.

Center Brian O’Driscoll, who recently lost the Irish captaincy, was the instigator of Wales’ unprecedented fifth straight home loss, setting up Simon Zebo’s 11th-minute try with a fabulous offload and then going over himself after the break for his 46th try in 121 internationals.

Prop Cian Healy barged over in the 23rd for the other try for the Irish, who faced a Welsh onslaught in the final 32 minutes. Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell scored tries for Wales in that period but the deficit was too big to claw back.

Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton finished with a perfect kicking record of three penalties and three conversions for 15 points for the Irish, who were seen as dark horses for the Six Nations before this weekend but may suddenly find themselves given the tag of favorites. Their main title rivals, France and England, must both travel to Lansdowne Road.

The Welsh, however, haven’t won since last year’s Grand Slam-winning campaign and until they stop giving their opposition big early leads, their winless run won’t come to an end. It doesn’t get any easier either, with pre-tournament favorite France awaiting them next weekend.

With Zebo and Craig Gilroy on the wings, Ireland has added pace and daring to its backplay since the 2012 Six Nations and Zebo in particular stood out on his tournament debut.

The Munster wing darted in for his second test try after O’Driscoll, who has indicated this could be his final Six Nations, exploded through a gap in the Welsh defense and flicked a superb pass across to Zebo.

Ireland was forcing turnovers and dominating the scrum, and soon built on its lead after an amazing piece of skill from Zebo. Rory Best charged down a kick from Dan Biggar and collected the ball, which was recycled out to Jamie Heaslip and then Zebo, who flicked the ball up with the outside of his left foot and continued the move. One phase later, Healy burrowed over from a yard for a try converted by Sexton, who had already booted a penalty.

Sexton and Halfpenny traded penalties but it was the Irish who finished the half in control, holding up a first sustained attack by Wales and then seeing Sexton knock over a stoppage-time penalty for 23-3.

The hosts belatedly found their form in the second half - just as they had done in autumn losses to New Zealand and Australia - but only after the evergreen O’Driscoll had scored what proved to be a crucial try.

The center won’t have scored a simpler try, spotting a gap at a tryline ruck to dive over from a yard, with Sexton maintaining his flawless kicking to make it 30-3.

Ireland was on the back foot for the rest of the game. Cuthbert ran a beautiful line from Biggar’s outside pass for a 48th-minute try and when Best was sin-binned 10 minutes later following an accumulation of team penalties, Wales capitalized almost immediately as Halfpenny squeezed over the line in the right corner.

Further pressure saw Conor Murray yellow-carded and Mitchell go over for a 75th-minute try that needed the judgment of the video referee. Ireland was safely home by then.

It was a sixth straight loss under interim coach Rob Howley, who has been filling in for Warren Gatland while the New Zealander undertakes his duties as British and Irish Lions coach for the tour of Australia starting in June.

Gatland was in the crowd as a Lions assessor and cannot have failed to have been impressed by the enduring class of O’Driscoll, who could yet be Lions captain for the second time.

(AP)

Date created : 2013-02-02

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