Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Irrepressible Irish confound critics

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Wales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

Ireland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19

NOEL MURPHY, Ireland's manager, summed it up with some feeling when he said that you should never write off the Irish. Which is apparently what some of the Irish press corps have been up to recently and quite disgracefully so according to one senior member, who was at pains to point out that the players were only amateurs for heaven's sake.

In which case, here was a victory sent straight from heaven and one that finally put an end to the most miserable string of defeats in Irish international history. Written off they might have been but in the happy hunting ground that is their home from home, Michael Bradley and his team confounded the critics. Stick that in your notebook.

Ireland had not won a Five Nations match since beating Wales in Dublin three years ago and on Saturday they were 80 minutes away from a 12th successive reversal in the championship. But then you dismiss the Cardiff factor at your peril and the Irish took perverse delight in reminding us that they have not lost at the Arms Park since 1983.

'We will never forget in Irish rugby that you have to make things happen,' Murphy said. This was partly achieved by the introduction of another stand-off, the fifth in 12 months no less. 'Eric who?' was the question being asked outside of Ireland, but the 24-year-old Eric Elwood from the Lansdowne club provided the answer to what has been regarded as a problem position.

From the humble beginnings of a drop-goal attempt in the 12th minute, the ball never getting off the ground, Elwood regained his composure admirably to contribute a conversion and three penalties to the cause. It was some debut, which was more than could be said of Nigel Walker's in the opposing camp.

'I've had better days in the office,' the Olympic hurdler said. Walker is a development officer with the Sports Council for Wales and is setting the pace in Welsh rugby with 19 tries. After three minutes the figure might well have been 20, but Mike Rayer chipped ahead instead of passing to the waiting wing and Bradley's running kick to touch was just enough to save the Irish.

Just about the only thing Walker either had passed to him or did not drop was the specimen bottle for a random drugs test following the game. Experienced as he is of such procedures in athletics, his inexperience on the rugby field at this level showed. Not that he was helped much by his colleagues and it would be a pity if such a fast mover was not given further opportunities to express himself properly.

Wales in general struggled to get their act together and none more so than Neil Jenkins. 'I'm sick and tired of people criticising,' Elwood's opposite number had said after the drubbing in Edinburgh, but he could not save Wales here and we will no doubt hear more of the same. While Elwood landed every one of his place kicks, Jenkins missed six penalty attempts and a conversion.

That was simply not good enough and was soul-destroying for Wales, who once again had to rely on Ieuan Evans for inspiration. The Irish, spurred on by Ciaran Clarke's left-footed drop goal, a Brian Robinson try that followed a cracking drive, and a conversion and two penalties from Elwood, were 16-9 up with half an hour to go when the Welsh captain struck.

There was no room left on the right and 30 yards to go when Evans received the ball from Rayer but the lion-hearted wing somehow evaded Irish clutches in a thrilling dash to the line. It was his third touchdown since Alan Davies took charge as coach - a period in which he has been the only back to score a try - and the pity of it all was that he departed almost immediately feeling groggy.

That was the collective feeling, too, among his team-mates once Elwood had landed a final penalty and the Irish had survived a nerve- racking four minutes of injury time. 'The preparations in the week were the best we've had,' Davies said. 'We felt we were going to be more positive.' But the Welsh, on cloud nine after beating England, have been brought back to earth by Scotland and Ireland with the prospect of a choppy ride still to come across the channel.

The written up Irish, meanwhile, return to Dublin for their closing ceremony with England. 'We will give it a go with the same enthusiasm,' Bradley promised. Given the green light in Cardiff, Ireland's captain is now filled with a driving ambition - a first win over the English in five years.

Wales: Try Evans; Penalties Jenkins 3. Ireland: Try Robinson; Conversion Elwood; Penalties Elwood 3; Drop goal Clarke.

WALES: M Rayer (Cardiff); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea); R Evans (Llanelli), N Meek (Pontypool), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), G O Llewellyn (Neath), A Copsey, E Lewis (both Llanelli), S Davies, R Webster (both Swansea). Replacement: A Clement (Swansea) for Evans, 58.

IRELAND: C Clarke (Terenure College); R Wallace (Garryowen), V Cunningham (St Mary's College), P Danaher (Garryowen), S Geoghegan (London Irish); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), P Johns (Dungannon), M Galwey (Shannon), P O'Hara (Cork Constitution), B Robinson (London Irish), D McBride (Malone).

Referee: A MacNeill (Australia).

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