Controversy mars Wales' victory over Ireland
March 12, 2011
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll leads the protests after Mike Phillips' try
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Wales made it three wins in a row in this year's Six Nations with a controversial 19-13 victory over Ireland at the Millennium Stadium.
A second half try from scrum-half Mike Phillips following a quick lineout proved to be the match-winning score but it should not have counted as a different ball to that punted into touch by Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton was used deeming the set-piece illegal. The clear mistake from the officials is set to over-shadow a hard-fought yet largely ugly victory that leaves Wales in the running for the Championship crown.
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll had earlier struck with a record-equalling 24th Championship try to pull level with Scotland's Ian Smith in the all-time stats. The boot of fly-half Ronan O'Gara cemented their advantage but Wales stayed in touch thanks to two penalties from fly-half James Hook and another from winger Leigh Halfpenny. Hook extended his side's lead after Phillips had scored but Ireland could still have won a painfully scrappy affair with replacement Paddy Wallace going agonisingly close to scoring in the last act of the game.
The game did not start well for Ireland scrum-half Eoin Reddan who was forced out of the game in the opening minute after charging down a clearance from Wales' Lee Byrne. Peter Stringer stepped in for his concussed team-mate and was immediately involved as the visitors peppered the Welsh line. The early pressure paid off with winger Tommy Bowe ghosting through before finding O'Driscoll for his record-equalling try that was converted by O'Gara who reached 1,000 Test points in the process.
The boot dominated the early exchanges with both sides giving the ball plenty of air in the hope of working an opening but good defence from both sides limited the opportunities. Wales were also forced into an early change with tight-head Craig Mitchell replaced by John Yapp before the quarter hour after dislocating his shoulder.
A solid lineout gave Wales an excellent attacking platform a couple of minutes later and Hook was handed the chance to put his side on the board after Ireland's Sean O'Brien was penalised for not rolling away in the tackle. Hook could only hit the upright with his kick but he atoned for his miss soon after when Ireland's Rory Best was penalised in the shadow of his own posts.
Wales were soon on the hunt for more and while they failed to capitalise on a wild pass from Luke Fitzgerald they continued to benefit from Ireland's indiscipline with Hook's second penalty bringing the hosts to within a point. But O'Gara was able to cancel out that score when Wales' Paul James was penalised for illegal binding at the next scrum. The tit-for-tat exchange continued when Ireland's O'Brien was caught offside in midfield but on this occasion it was Halfpenny who hit the target from long range.
Ireland ended the half on the front foot with break from Fitzgerald followed by a great run from O'Brien that took his side deep into the Wales 22. But they eventually had to settle for a penalty after scrum-half Phillips was penalised for not releasing and O'Gara obliged with the last act of the half.
Wales looked to lift the tempo following the re-start but they got little change out of the Ireland defence but the visitors also struggled for continuity. The aerial option continued to be the preferred option for both sides and O'Driscoll was called on in defence to deny a try-hungry Shane Williams as the half threatened to burst into life.
O'Gara then made way for Sexton in a significant change of personnel but his first touch proved costly. His poor kick to touch led to a quick lineout exchange between hooker Matthew Rees and Phillips that saw the scrum-half race away down the touchline to score.
Ireland swarmed around the referee to complain that a different ball had been used for the quick lineout deeming it illegal but referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded the try after conferring with his assistant Peter Allan. Ireland's protests at a clear mistake by the officials were brushed aside as Hook landed the conversion.
Ireland responded well with Fitzgerald and lock Donncha O'Callaghan almost combining for a try only to be denied by a forward pass. Play came back for an earlier penalty but Sexton was unable to trouble the scoreboard with a relatively simple chance.
The cagey nature of the contest had a detrimental effect on the game as a spectacle but Ireland rediscovered some composure to drive deep into the Wales 22 only to be thwarted by some excellent blitz defence. Ireland's shortcomings in attack were compounded when Hook slotted his third penalty after O'Brien had been caught offside.
Wales were happy to keep it tight as the clock counted down and Ireland's kicking from hand failed to cause concern. A penalty at the breakdown enabled Sexton to find the Wales 22 for an attacking lineout and the Irish forwards burrowed forward in hope only to cough up possession.
Forced to run from deep they struggled to break the gain line but an offside penalty offered one last chance to conjure a turnaround. Sexton found touch inside the 22 and the Irish forwards opted for the driving maul only for Wales to infringe once again. The ball was worked wide to replacement Wallace who looked set to score in the corner but was wrapped up by the Welsh defence as he cut inside looking for an easier conversion. Ireland managed to recycle the ball but Wales eventually stole it and with it the win.
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