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Thursday 8 December 2016

Sexton gives Irish some relief

Schmidt's men can control strong 13-point lead as Wales hit back

Ireland’s captain Rory Best congratulates Jonathan Sexton as they are both substituted off the pitch at Lansdowne Road yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s captain Rory Best congratulates Jonathan Sexton as they are both substituted off the pitch at Lansdowne Road yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Wales’ Gareth Davies has his kick blocked down by Ireland’s Devin Toner during their Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium. Pic: Sportsfile

It was more than an honourable draw.

You couldn't find a hack or former player in the media centre that forecasted anything other than a 10-15 point win by Wales.

"To come back from 16-13 down and get those last three points, you probably feel that it's a better result than a draw normally would be," said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

Every piece of news in the build-up was bad news for Ireland.

Seán O'Brien and Rob Kearney joined Luke Fitzgerald in the bleachers.

It is rare in international rugby that a late withdrawal is a good thing.

However, the removal of Gareth Anscombe caused the promotion of Liam Williams.

Another arrow had been placed in Wales quiver.

So much of the apprehension revolved around the beginning. Ireland had to impose their will and their skill on Wales.

Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton and CJ Stander made the necessary dents for Sexton to land a three-point takeaway in the fifth minute.

There followed a stretch of in-play rugby triggered by Dan Biggar beating Simon Zebo in the air.

The impact of Andrew Trimble and the emergency work of Keith Earls saved the Irish.

The unlikely saviour turned out to be Devin Toner when seizing on a loose ball to set Ireland away.

CJ Stander was giving Ireland the gain line by just enough to make all the difference and Sexton notched his second from the left in the 14th minute.

Ireland couldn't quite nail the choke tackle, though it did have the effect of slowing down the Welsh ruck ball.

The first scrum penalty went the way of the Welsh.

Biggar, who had his left foot heavily bandaged, missed the target from an acute angle.

When Zebo kicked out on the full, the pressure needlessly returned.

It took a textbook poach by Robbie Henshaw to stem the red tide.

The injured Biggar was pulled and Rhys Priestland entered the contest to spill the ball with his second touch.

Tommy O'Donnell was on the scene immediately. Sexton was there in his slipstream.

Henshaw looked up and kicked for the flag. Toner got his mit to Gareth Davies clearance from the lineout.

It was now Ireland's throw. Stander and O'Donnell came mighty close.

Conor Murray finally between Samson Lee and Justin Tipuric for a try converted by Sexton for 13-0 in the 27th minute.

Ireland made the build-up all about the getting in front and staying there. They had done the first part.

Sadly, they became their own worst enemy. Liam Williams got around Zebo far too easily. Murray's box-kick had too much heat.

Earls was not careful enough in bringing Williams to ground. Priestland took three points.

The football intelligence of Tipuric put Trimble in no man's land for a five-metre scrum.

Zebo did magnificently to thwart Williams from Priestland's cross-kick.

The scrum crabbed left and Toby Faletau acted accordingly, picking up, withstanding Sexton's hit and placing the ball immaculately.

Priestland's conversion meant there were just three points in it at the break.

The initial barrage of Welsh carries was met with fire.

Ireland couldn't escape the vice-like grip and Priestland squared it.

Ireland came to life with urgency and creativity. Heaslip legged it. O'Donnell bounced a defender.

Priestland's deliberate knock-on was a point of contention.

Sexton opted for territory. The maul looked powerful. It was defused.

Zebo and Murray combined. The Welsh realigned in record time.

Ireland were starting to push the passes, take more chances.

A beautifully manufactured strike play had Sexton flying to find Trimble closed down by Tom James.

Then, the Welsh went on an eight-minute surge.

Just when Jamie Heaslip clawed a turnover, referee Jerome Garces saw a penalty. Priestland kicked Wales to the lead for the first time in the 72nd minute.

This was answered by a nerveless shot from Sexton to make it a draw.

Wales coach Warren Gatland summed it up well.

"You've taken a couple of trophies out of the cabinet," he said.

"You can't win the Triple Crown and you can't win the Grand Slam."

All that is left is what Ireland still have - The Chamionship.

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