Wales. . . .17
THE sibling rivalry between the Celts, who get along famously off the field but are daggers drawn on it, produced another in a long line of intense blood feuds. It was mainly decided at long range between the place kickers, Ireland's Eric Elwood, who scored all his side's points with five consummate penalty goals, and Neil Jenkins, who did the same for Wales but out-pointed his rival by adding a try to his four penalties.
For 70 minutes it seemed as though Elwood would win the match for Ireland, who were far more creative in their approach than they had been against France. He was exploiting every chance, while Jenkins always seemed on the brink of losing confidence. But in the end Elwood failed with two kicks which would have clinched the match for Ireland, while Jenkins steadied himself to put Wales ahead for the first time with his final kick in the 71st minute.
So, for the first time since 1988, Wales have scored two consecutive championship victories and lead the table, while Ireland, who deserve better, look like playing 'pass the wooden spoon' with Scotland.
The weather, at least, was not a factor. After a 48-hour deluge, the sun shone and only the pitch remained a little soggy. An improvement that worked against Ireland? Once, you would have said so. But remembering the three tries that Wales scored against Scotland at a sodden Arms Park, you could no longer be so sure.
Not that the Welsh supporters had fallen for the beguiling Irish talk of a closed match. Despite Thursday's gales in the Irish Sea, they had arrived in force, confident Wales were on a roll - a few of them in conical hats and full national drag as though off to rekindle the Rebecca Riots.
It was Ireland, though, who were in revolt from the start. Elwood, criticised in Paris for ignoring his backs, repeatedly fed the ball out. Michael Bradley elected to run a penalty in a marginally kickable position. They were determined not to be seen as a team which relied solely on Elwood's boot, yet the result was just the same. As Wales strove to keep the Irish out they moved up into offside positions, killed the rucks or barged and lifted in the line-outs, which was everything that Elwood could have hoped for. Five times before the interval he called for the sandboy, and only once failed to punish Wales.
Jenkins, in contrast, seemed on edge, missing his kicks by fairly wide margins, and even one well-struck penalty in the 18th minute didn't seem to steady him. Not that he showed any nerves in scoring a fine try in the 26th minute. Mike Hall made the initial thrust down the centre, but from the breakdown, Moon fed Jenkins on the blind side and the stand-off forced himself through a tackle and over the line. A conversion would have put Wales ahead, but again Jenkins' attempt went wide.
A further exchange of penalties early in the second half moved the score on to 15-11, but although there was so much to play for, it was still the Irish who were doing most of the playing.
Then Jenkins got his second successive penalty, reducing the gap to a single point, and for all their busy activity Ireland's hold was precarious. For those who believed in omens, Mike Rayer, the hero of Cardiff, was now on the field having taken over from the injured Tony Clement, just as - minutes before - his Cardiff clubmate, Simon Hill, had replaced Wayne Proctor, who had been carried off with concussion and a broken jaw.
The incredibly tense final 12 minutes, however, were to remain with the kickers. First Jenkins snatched the lead with his fourth penalty, round the corner and 35 metres out, then the almost impeccable Elwood hit the upright with a penalty from only 15 metres awarded for a high tackle on himself.
Ieuan Evans came close to scoring with a typical dive on a rolling ball minutes away from the finish, but it was a day when the place kicker had the last word.
Ireland: Penalties Elwood 5. Wales: Try N Jenkins; Penalties N Jenkins 4.
IRELAND: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); R Wallace (Garryowen), M McCall (Bangor), 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), M Galwey (Shannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), B Robinson (Ballymena), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone).
WALES: A Clement (Swansea); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), N Davies, W Proctor (both Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon; R Evans (both Llanelli), G Jenkins (Swansea), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli) G O Llewellyn (Neath), E Lewis, S Quinnell, M Perego (all Llanelli). Replacements: S Hill (Cardiff) for Proctor, 44; M Rayer (Cardiff) for Clement, 51; R Jones (Swansea) for N Davies, 71.
Referee: A Spreadbury (England).Reuse content