Ireland revel in passion play

Five Nations' Championship: Young fly-half put to sword as Wales buckle under pressure
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PERHAPS the best that can be said of this 100th game between Wales and Ireland is that it was an exciting match between two poor teams. Winning was the principal issue of the day, as this was almost certainly a wooden spoon decider.

The Welsh had promised so much but have delivered so little, while Ireland had obviously thrown away the coaching manual. They reverted to the game they know and love best - putting the ball in the air and playing off the top of their heads with old-fashioned Irish passion, fire and fury. They thus achieved their first hat-trick of consecutive wins over Wales for 30 years, their highest score against Wales and scored four tries against them for only the second time.

But Pat Whelan, the Ireland manager, acknowledged that those statistics will count for little at Twickenham in two weeks time. "We realise that we will have to improve immensely when we face England. Irish pride and passion is only of use when you are also organised, and one of the better features of our game today was our ball retention." The Ireland coach Murray Kidd echoed his thoughts: "We set out to keep the ball in front of us as much as possible. Passion must have a target."

Wales appeared in positive mood as they sung their anthem, but they wasted their first attacking platform in the Irish 22 and Ireland announced their intentions by hoisting a ball to the heavens, which fell like a bomb among the young Welsh backs. Arwel Thomas was threatened, Ireland won the ruck and David Humphreys chipped for the corner. Although Wayne Proctor seemed to have it covered, it jumped like a Mexican bean and Simon Geoghegan sneaked in for the try.

Wales appeared undismayed but again threw away a scoring chance when Leigh Davies, by far their best back, made a break and cut inside instead of looking for support in the open. He soon made amends by slicing the Irish midfield to ribbons and putting Ieuan Evans in under the posts. Arwel Thomas converted.

Ireland responded to the ease with which the Welsh had opened them up by themselves running the ball, but were rewarded only with a penalty by Simon Mason. A poor clearance by Arwel Thomas was picked up by Niall Woods who flipped the ball into the air before touching down. Mason converted and Wales were two scores behind, more through their own errors rather than any Irish virtues. Arwel Thomas was now facing the huge pressure of making amends for previous mistakes by kicking an easy penalty, but he fluffed it.

Ireland, who they say are never at peace except when they are fighting, now attacked the Welsh through their forwards and again Wales found themselves in disarray. Only the failure of Woods to catch a pass prevented Ireland having 20 points on the board at half-time, but instead it was 15-7 and, with the wind at their backs, Wales were still in it.

Immediately after half-time Arwel Thomas, having missed a penalty and made a hash of a drop-goal attempt, kicked a penalty in front of the posts. But only Hogan's misfortune of running into the referee when he made the cleanest of breaks and Paul Wallace's double movement as he bullocked his way over prevented another Irish try. Justice was done when Mason kicked a penalty. Ireland's ploy of playing Denis McBride was paying huge dividends as his speed and pressure got to the precocious talent of Arwel Thomas, who by now was fumbling and knocking on.

But suddenly, Hemi Taylor launched a tremendous Welsh attack and Leigh Davies made a marvellous break bringing the ball inside to Nigel Davies, Jonathan Humphreys and Robert Howley, who put Ieuan Evans away for a try under the posts, converted by Thomas.

With only a point in it and a few minutes to go, the Irish came again and, from a ruck near the Welsh line, Hogan ran and popped the ball to Gabriel Fulcher who went over to end Welsh hopes. The Irish began to sing "Alive, Alive O".

David Corkery then rubbed salt into the gaping Welsh wounds by going over from a maul on the line and Wales were left in total ruin. As Niall Hogan, the Ireland captain, put it: "We were eager to leave the French game behind us. We had a lot to prove and one of the youngest Irish teams for decades rose to the challenge."

Ireland: S Mason (Orrell); S Geoghegan (Bath), J Bell (Northampton), M Field (Malone), N Woods (Blackrock College); D Humphreys (London Irish), N Hogan (Terenure College, capt); N Popplewell (Newcastle), A Clarke (Northampton), P Wallace (Blackrock College), G Fulcher (Cork Constitution), J Davidson (Dungannon), D Corkery (Cork Constitution), D McBride (Malone), V Costello (St Mary's College).

Wales: W Thomas; I Evans (both Llanelli), L Davies (Neath), N Davies, W Proctor (both Llanelli); A Thomas (Bristol), R Howley (Bridgend); A Lewis (Cardiff), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), J Davies, G Llewellyn (both Neath), D Jones, E Lewis (both Cardiff), G Jones (Llanelli), H Taylor (Cardiff).

Referee: D Mene (France).

Ireland 30 Wales 17

Tries: Geoghegan 8, Tries: Evans 13, 65

Woods 25, Fulcher 69, Cons: A Thomas 13, 65

Corkery 79 Pen: A Thomas 49

Cons: Mason 25, 69

Pens: Mason 20, 54