Ireland and Wales draw in Dublin
Ireland and Wales couldn’t be seperated after 80 minutes, the two sides drawing 16-16 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Unglamorous, sure, but no less impressive, as his side gradually ground down Ireland’s lead before Rhys Priestland’s penalty gave them a late lead. Sexton however held his nerve to level the scores once more as the game ended 16-16.
CJ Stander started brightly in his long-awaited debut for Ireland after belting out the national anthem before kick-off, carrying hard to force a penalty against Wales which Sexton converted after six minutes for a 3-0 lead.
Persistent pressure from the hosts forced Wales into putting in a high number of tackles, eventually resulting in a penalty against the visitors for not rolling away as Sexton doubled his tally.
The early departure of in-form Dan Biggar seemed crucial for Wales, Rhys Priestland entering the fray months after his international future looked momentarily over following his move to Bath.
The momentum of the first half hour continued to flow Ireland’s way, culminating eventually in the game’s first try.
Ireland’s big runners were effective and after carries from Robbie Henshaw and Stander, Murray darted his way over around the fringes for an efficient score.
That bright start however nearly came undone after Keith Earls appeared to make a dangerous tackle on Liam Williams. The Ireland winger escaped a yellow card but Priestland did convert the resulting penalty to put Wales on the board.
Taking the initiative Wales continues to hit back and despite an unsteady scrum, Taulupe Faletau was able to power his way over from close-range, having too much energy and strength for Sexton as Ireland looked weary towards the end of the first half – leading 13-10 at the break.
Priestland’s early drop goal attempt at the start of the second half fell wide but he made no mistake with a penalty not long after to tie the scores at 13-13.
As the physicality rose so did the number of handling errors from each side in a contest now filled with tension, the Dublin crowd bursting into a rare roar when Sexton cut through the defensive line and delivered a perfect pass wide to Andrew Trimble only for the winger to be bundled into touch.
A monster set of phases from Wales in Irish territory, 28 in total, resulted finally in a penalty at the ruck for Wales to take the lead for the first time with eight minutes remaining. Priestland rose to the challenge, converting to make it 16-13.
Naturally based on how close the contest was Ireland were given an immediate chance to reply, the Aviva Stadium descending into a hush as Sexton delivered to make it all square once again.
Priestland missed once again going for a drop goal to snatch victory with two minutes left and Ireland had a chance to kick the ball out from a scrum with time up, but instead went for the win.
There was to be however no final score, settling for a 16-16 draw and nursing some battered bodies heading into Round Two.
Man of the Match: A superb debut for CJ Stander but the tackling of Jamie Roberts was so impressive for Wales in midfield.
Moment of the Match: After all those phases Rhys Priestland finally put Wales in front with less than ten minutes to go, his penalty appearing to complete an impressive comeback until Sexton responded.
Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.
Pens: Sexton 3
Pens: Priestland 3
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
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)