Griffen pulls plug on late Irish comeback
Terry McMaster's Ireland almost came back from the dead to stun a clearly superior Wales in their opener at Llandovery, in Wales, yesterday.
The Irish were hounded by a hungry home outfit, clearly out to make amends for their reverse to Ireland in this competition last year.
Nonetheless, Ireland were quick out of the blocks when a dominant Wales front row turned in on the angle to allow out-half Paddy Jackson to knock over a penalty in the first minute.
From there on, Wales rolled over Ireland at the scrum and won the collisions through their burly back row of Owen Sheppeard, Thomas Young and Dan Baker. It was only a matter of time before Wales made their front-foot football pay dividends. They made heavy weather of it, spilling clear-cut opportunities and losing line-out ball.
Still, big centre George North carried for fun and his straight line onto out-half Matthew Morgan's swift feed was too much for the Irish defence, Morgan converting from near the posts to make it 7-3 in the 15th minute.
Ireland were reduced to the pick-and-drive into the stiff wind to eat up the clock as much as the yards. The greasy ball made this an unprofitable exercise. The forwards simply couldn't make ground into the beef of a far more powerful Welsh eight, whose loose-head Rob Evans plunged to the line to make it 14-3 at the break.
Ireland looked to make logical use of the wind, Jackson going for distance over subtlety with the boot. His second penalty did little to paper over the cracks. A 70-metre counter from wing Eli Walker led to North escaping the clutches of Peter Nelson for his second try in the 50th minute.
There was no warning to Wales of what was to follow. Ireland struck back with a Conor Gilsenan try after slick passing from Jackson and centre JJ Hanrahan. Jackson converted.
It looked like nothing more than a consolation until Sam Coghlan-Murray and full-back Charlie Simpson combined to give replacement Mark Corballis the room to squirm in at the corner to make it a three-point game. There were signs of discontent, if not quite panic, in the crowd until it was made safe by replacement Joe Griffen's 68th-minute penalty.
Wales -- T Prydie; H Robinson, G North, L Williams, S Campbell (L Bellamore, 60); M Morgan (J Griffen, 57), A Davies; R Evans (D Harris, 53), J Dando, S Lee (W Jones, 53), C Hill, L Hamilton (M Screech, 63), O Sheppeard (E Jenkins, 44), T Young capt (C Thomas, 44), D Baker.
Ireland -- C Simpson (Ballymena); S MacAuley (Clongowes Wood) (M Corballis, St Michael's, 46), P Nelson (Royal, Dungannon), JJ Hanrahan (Rockwell), S Coghlan-Murray (Newbridge); P Jackson (Methodist), L McGrath (St Michael's); R Harrison (Methodist), J Rael (Castletroy) (K McCall, Wallace High, ht), N Scannell (PBC Cork, capt), Y Browne (CBC Cork), S Buckley (Rockwell) (J Conan, St Gerard's, 46), A Clarkin (Terenure), A Conneely (Colaiste Iognaid) (C Gilsenan, Clongowes Wood, 37), D Qualter (Sligo Grammar).
Ref -- L Pearce (England).