x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Halfpenny penalty breaks Irish hearts again in Six Nations

Late score at the Aviva Stadium gives Wales a third straight win over their rivals.

Leigh Haflpenny of Wales kicks the last minute match winning penalty during the Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium.
Leigh Haflpenny of Wales kicks the last minute match winning penalty during the Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium.

DUBLIN // Wales recorded their third successive victory over Ireland yesterday with a last minute penalty by Leigh Halfpenny giving them a 23-21 victory in their Six Nations opener.

The Welsh scored three tries to the hosts two with Jonathan Davies, the centre, getting two of them while Tommy Bowe, the Irish wing, brought up a century of Test points with his 20th try.

"That was the hardest kick I've had to take in all my life and I was very pleased to see it go over and get the win for Wales," said Halfpenny of his match-winning effort.

"It was end-to-end stuff - an exciting game and all credit to Ireland. They went out and gave us a tough game."

Declan Kidney, the Ireland coach, was downcast. "It is extremely disappointing but Wales took their opportunities," he said. "We didn't build on our lead in the second-half and when we go ahead we have to go for the jugular."

Jonathan Sexton got his first shot at goal in the fourth minute and showed no nerves as he slotted it over for an early 3-0 lead.

The hosts were caught out down the left flank in the 14th minute, this time Jonathan Davies touching down in the corner after a superb pass by Rhys Priestland as he was smothered by Bowe.

Priestland, though, failed to convert Davies's sixth Test try but the Irish were rattled.

But Bowe made an incisive break in the 22nd minute when he drew in Alex Cuthbert and his pass set up hooker Rory Best for his sixth Test try. Sexton converted and the Irish were 10-5 ahead.

There was a further blow for the Welsh at half-time as their captain, Sam Warburton, was unable to come out because of a dead leg and was replaced by 22-year-old Justin Tipuric while Cuthbert was removed as well and James Hook came on for his 60th cap.

Ireland extended their lead three minutes into the second period as Sexton landed a penalty from the left to make it 13-5 and Priestland, clearly lacking sharpness after being out with a knee injury, missed a chance to reduce it with a 49th minute attempt.

He was relieved of kicking duties when the Irish conceded their next penalty and Halfpenny stepped up to slot it over for 13-8.

The visitors were ahead barely a minute later as from a Welsh line-out the ball moved quickly down the back line and a superb offload by George North released Davies, who needed no invitation to run it in for his second try.

Halfpenny converted for 15-13 but the Irish came storming back prompted by a brilliant catch by Rob Kearney that failed to produce a try but Sexton converted a penalty to restore the lead to Ireland, 16-15.

The Welsh were reduced to 14 men with 15 minutes remaining as Bradley Davies was yellow carded when he lifted replacement lock Donncha Ryan up in the air and brought him crashing down all but head first. The hosts made them pay as Bowe touched down in the right hand corner after great Irish pressure.

Sexton failed to convert to leave the Irish 21-15 ahead. However, back came the Welsh and North was rewarded for a super performance by scoring in the left hand corner but Halfpenny was unable to convert to leave the Welsh trailing by a point.

But he was not to be found wanting in the final minute as he sent over a penalty after the Stephen Ferris was also adjudged guilty of a spear tackle and yellow-carded.

* Agence France-Presse