Ireland 16-16 Wales: The boot of replacement fly-half Rhys Priestland helps Wales fightback and share the spoils at the Aviva Stadium
Johnny Sexton’s eight points plus Conor Murray’s try give Ireland a 13-10 lead at the break
Rhy’s Priestland kicked a penalty and converted Taulupe Faletau’s try to keep Wales in it
Another two penalties from Priestland give Wales a narrow lead with 10 minutes to go
Sexton though slotted soon after to level things up
Ireland and Wales shared the spoils for the first time in 40 years in their Six Nations opener on Sunday, with both sides doing everything they could to try and win it from start to finish.
With the clock in the red and fans’ nerves shredded, both teams strove for the decisive score rather than settle for the draw. But the defences held out, and when referee Jerome Garces finally called a halt, there was a collective exhaling of breath around the ground.
It means Wales have not won back-to-back games in Ireland since 2000, while the Irish dream of a third consecutive title has not been fatally damaged. But Grand Slams and Triple Crowns will have to wait for another season.
Warren Gatland would have been cursing his luck when he lost fullback Gareth Anscombe to a tight hamstring before kick off but losing Rugby World Cup star Dan Biggar to injury early in the match must have been utterly devastating. The injury seemed to affect the men in red, who were very disjointed for the first 30 minutes but eventually got into their rhythm and started to put Ireland under pressure.
The hosts had initially raced into a 6-0 lead as the ever reliable Sexton struck two penalties before converting Conor Murray’s score to give the hosts a 13-point lead. Wales though fought back as Priestland knocked over a penalty before converting Taulupe Faletau’s score late in the half to reduce the deficit at the break to just three points, 13-10.
Priestland levelled things up early in the second half with a simple penalty before another three-pointer from the Bath man after 71 minutes gave Wales the lead for the first time.
This match was by far the best game of the weekends three clashes but picking out outstanding individuals is difficult. CJ Stander and Conor Murray put themselves about and influenced things for the hosts while Jamie Roberts and Faletau dazzled for the men in red.
Sexton got Ireland’s 2016 Six Nations campaign underway with the two successful penalty kicks to give the hosts an early six-point lead.
Things went from bad to worse for Wales as they lost fly-half Biggar. Rhys Priestland replaced the Ospreys man. This loss was a second early blow for Warren Gatland after Anscombe was ruled out pre-match.
A strong scrum from Ireland then give them the attacking platform to release the backs and score their first try with Murray dotting down after 26 minutes. Carries from Henshaw and Heaslip continue the play and provide the quick ball, which allowed the scrum-half to shimmy his way over the line to score. Sexton made it 13-0 with the conversion.
Priestland though made no mistake with a penalty soon after to reduce Ireland’s lead to 10 points with just under eight minutes to go in this first half.
Wales were then able to get their first try of the 2016 competition after 38 minutes. Their scrum powered forward towards the line and as everyone looked for the push over Faletau picked the ball up from the back and barged his way over. Priestland added the conversion, 13-10.
Wales, who had won two of their last three trips to Dublin, started the second half with confidence and were level six minutes after the restart when Priestland struck a simple penalty between the posts. It was now 13-13.
Priestland then put Wales into the lead for the first time after 71 minutes but it didn’t last long as two minutes later Sexton sent his penalty from 45 m out snuck between the posts to level things up, which is how the scored remained, 16-16.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Wales: Jamie Roberts
Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Nathan White, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jerry Cronin, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Dave Kearney
Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Alex Cuthbert
Date: Sunday, February 7
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)