Ireland deal Wales a crushing blow at Wembley
February 20, 1999
Centre Kevin Maggs dives in to score for Ireland
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Playing Ireland at Wembley rather than Cardiff proved no salvation for Wales as their sixteen year run of failure at home to the Irish continued with this shattering defeat. While a spectacular second half fight back ensured a tense conclusion, Wales were unable to make up for the utter failure of a catastophic first 50 minutes when a combination of indiscipline and incompetence put the match out of reach. Wales only started to play when they were 26-6 down, 10 minutes after half-time.
Tries from Craig Quinnell, charging over from a line out, and Shane Howarth, crossing on the right after taking a brilliant dexterous pass from Chris Wyatt, put them back into serious contention. When Neil Jenkins kicked a penalty with 12 minutes to go, Wales were within 3 points and the greatest turnaround in international rugby history looked possible. But the Welsh fire burnt out at this point. Ireland, briefly rattled, regained their composure and territorial control and David Humphreys cooly landed his second drop goal of the match to ensure Ireland a victory they fully deserved after dominating for all but 15 minutes.
Wales had self-destructed miserably in a first half as poor as any in a decade of disappointment. Ireland had to be no more than competent as indiscipline and ineptitude presented them with a series of opportunites.
Predictions that Craig Quinnell's return from injury would put punch into the Welsh pack were confirmed in exactly the wrong way. Within three minutes, he had taken a swing at an Irishman. A penalty award was reversed and David Humphreys, putting his French nightmare firmly behind him, kicked Ireland into the lead. He might have extended that a few minutes later after Wales prop David Young had been yellow carded. Instead, the reliable boot of Neil Jenkins, one of the few aspects of Welsh play to function at all in the first half, levelled in the fourteenth minute.
If the Welsh debacle at Murrayfield had a decisive moment, it was Gregor Townsend's interception of a botched tap-penalty and an unopposed run to the line. The circumstances of Ireland's first half score were a little different - Humphreys charged down a Jenkins kick, but the end result was exactly the same. Irish centre Maggs charged joyfully and unopposed 40 yards to the line, attended by a three-man green shirted guard of honour.
Humphrey's conversion made it 10-3, and he added two more penalities in the next few minutes - the second from a position made possible by Scott Gibbs' neck-high tackle on Keith Wood. Jenkins cut the gap with a 34th minute penalty but there was still time for Quinnell to negate the best Welsh moment of their half, getting a yellow card for charging recklessly into a ruck after wing Matthew Robinson had surged 40 yards down the right. If Ireland had only needed to take advantage of Welsh incompetence before half-time, they showed the ability to create immediately after the break.
Ten points in as many minutes at the start of the second half put them apparently out of sight. Conor O'Shea was narrowly thwarted when Welsh winger Dafydd James just beat him to a kick into the corner. But there was no stopping Keith Wood from crossing under the posts after a surge down the left by Niall Woods. Humphreys converted and then dropped a goal with the easy nonchalence of a man shelling peas.