O’Driscoll masterclass sees Ireland defeat Wales in epic encounter

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Coach Logic

Ahead of Ireland against Wales yesterday, Brian O’Driscoll was, according to many, ‘past it’, ‘too old’, ‘not fit’. Someone should really have mentioned it to the 34-year-old warrior, for he clearly had not read the script.

The great Irish centre had only played two games for Leinster in the build up to this encounter with Wales having had an ankle injury that also kept him out of the autumn internationals.

Rugby obituaries had been pencilled, the Irish captaincy had been passed to Jamie Heaslip, the end, it seemed, was nigh.

Oh how he must be smiling this morning, he was the talisman behind Ireland’s spellbinding 30-22 win against Wales yesterday. A typical poachers try was preceded by a pass of such magical beauty to set up Simon Zebo that it will be replayed for decades to come as an example of how to make life easy for your winger.

That Zebo try, on 11 minutes, was the catalyst for a run of twenty points for Ireland in just eighteen first half minutes, following a fairly even opening spell.

Zebo’s try was converted by Sexton before more Irish pressure, following a pass straight into touch from Wales’ Jonathan Davies, began to build. They knocked and knocked on the door but the Wales defence held firm, eventually yielding a penalty through debutant Andrew Coombs though.

Sexton’s three points probably felt like a small victory for Wales though, such was the pressure they were under.

The pressure was beginning to show for Wales who had a bit of the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ about them such was the Irish ferocity. Rory best showed his Lions credentials, in front of the watching Warren Gatland, by charging down the unsteady Biggar and then regathering the ball.

Best showed his all round footballing skills to find Jamie Heaslip on his right-hand side, the Irish captain heard the call from Zebo, who had come across from the left wing in support, and promptly fed the speed merchant the ball.

The ball was slightly behind Zebo, but the quick-thinking Munsterman provided the Six Nations with its ultimate ‘youtube moment’ as he flicked the ball up with his heel and into his arms without breaking stride. It was so nonchalant that it barely looked as though anything extraordinary had happened at first, replays showed though that it was a sublime piece of skill.

It saw Zebo break clear, only to be hauled down inches from the line, the bullocking Cian Healy was on hand as ever though to drive over to stretch Ireland’s lead to 15-0.

Sexton added the extras and then followed that up with a penalty after an infringement from the increasingly irate Mike Phillips. That gave Ireland a 20-0 lead, with Wales staring down the barrel not just of an eighth successive defeat, but of total humiliation.

It was not until 34 minutes had passed that Wales finally got themselves on the scoreboard with a Leigh Halfpenny penalty. Wales rallied for a while but the impeccable Irish defence held firm, before they marched upfield where Sexton landed another penalty to take them into the break 23-3 up, game over.

It certainly seemed like game over, not even the most ardent of Welsh fans would have expected to get out of this one. As much as Ireland had been brilliant, Wales had, frankly, been terrible.

That pattern looked set to continue as O’Driscoll wriggled over to score his 46th International try after Rob Kearney was hauled down just short of the line. Sexton almost inevitably converted, making it 30-3. Wales were on a sinking ship.

Wales sent on Justin Tipuric for Aaron Shingler, and suddenly Wales started to become a threat. Whether it was down to Tipuric, who certainly added some much needed energy, or the fact that they had simply nothing to lose, we will never know, but whatever it was, Wales sparked into life.

First Cuthbert sliced through the Irish defence after Faletau had been held up, cutting a fine angle to give Leigh Halfpenny the easiest of conversions to make it 30-10.

Suddenly Wales were the team in the ascendency, dominating the breakdown and putting the Irish defence under huge pressure. The penalty count began to mount before eventually Romain Poite lost patience and sent Rory Best to the bin.

They say you should score around seven points whenever you have a man advantage and Wales made quick progress towards that mark as Leigh Halfpenny finished magnificently in the right hand corner, dotting the ball down as his body was being driven into touch. He missed the conversion but at 30-15 Wales were suddenly looking like a real threat.

With such a shift in momentum you felt as though time was going to be the only constraint in what would be one of the great comebacks in Six Nations history.

They hammered away at the Irish defence but they simply could not breach it. More penalties were coughed up and Ireland’s scrum half, Connor Murray, was sent to the bin. O’Dricsoll, who else, stepped in at scrum half for Ireland, as if just to demonstrate his immense all round ability.

The penalties kept coming for Wales but penalties were no good, they needed tries. Craig Mitchell eventually drove over from close range and Halfpenny converted to make it 22-30, but it was too little too late.

In the classic game of two halves, Brian O’Driscoll and his band of brothers had held out to win this most memorable of Six Nations fixtures.

The old master came into this game with some even questioning his Irish credentials, he was opposite the man rated the favourite for the Lions’ 13 shirt this summer, Jonathan Davies. By the end of the game O’Driscoll had reasserted himself at the top of the tree, number one for number 13, Davies by contrast had unfortunately been given a bit of a masterclass. He won’t be the last.

Wales:

Tries – Cuthbert, Halfpenny, Mitchell

Conversions – Halfpenny (2)

Penalty – Halfpenny

15. Halfpenny 14. Cuthbert 13. Davies 12. Roberts 11. North 10. Biggar 9. Phillips; 1. Jenkins 2. Rees 3. Jones 4. Coombs 5. Evans 6. Shingler 7. Warburton (c) 8. Faletau.

Replacements: 16 Owens (for Rees 52), 17 James (for Jenkins, 67), 18 Mitchell (for Jones, 73), 19 Kohn (for Evans, 73), 20 Tipuric (for Shingler, 43), 21 Williams (for Phillips, 63), 22 Hook (for Biggar, 73), 23-Scott Williams.

Ireland:

Tries – Zebo, Healy, O’Driscoll

Conversions – Sexton (3)

Penalties – Sexton (3)

15. Kearney 14. Gilroy 13. O’Driscoll 12. D’Arcy 11. Zebo 10. Sexton 9. Murray; 1. Healy 2. Best 3. Ross 4. McCarthy 5. Ryan 6. O’Mahony 7. O’Brien 8. Heaslip (c).

Replacements: 16 Cronin, 17 Kilcoyne (for Healy, 73), 18 Fitzpatrick (for Ross, 69), 19 O’Callaghan, 20 Henry (for O’Mahony, 52), 21 Reddan (for Zebo, 80), 22- O’Gara, 23 Earls (for D’Arcy, 43).

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