Rugby Union: Inspired Wood heaps more misery on Wales

Wales 23 Ireland 29 Tries: C Quinnell, Howarth Tries: Maggs, Wood Conversions: Jenkins 2 Conversions: Humphreys 2 Penalties: Jenkins 3 Penalties: Humphreys 3 Drop goals: Humphreys 2 Half-time: 6-16 Attendance: 75,000
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The Independent Online
SO THE Dragons wore green. It was Ireland who had the fire and the ferocity; Wales lacked the puff. It is no good getting your act together for a quarter of the match. And although the 20 minutes in which Wales suddenly ignited had the crowd on the edge of their seats, the reality of it all was that overall they merely smouldered; it was the Irish who burned with desire and were rewarded.

Ireland have made it a habit of late to win on Wales' home turf. This was their first visit to Wembley but they treated the historic occasion as they have done Cardiff since 1985, as a home from home.

In the end it came down to elemental factors. A 3D approach of discipline, defence and dash (all of which the Irish had in abundance) and appreciating that each component had its place in the grander scheme of things.

If the yellow cards accorded to Craig Quinnell and Dai Young were no indication of what was wrong up front early on for Wales, then coach Graham Henry spelled it out afterwards: "I thought our indiscipline was disappointing," said the grim-faced New Zealander. "We knew that we were in for a physical contest and obviously it was mentioned before the game."

The Irish in contrast heard their coach, another New Zealander Warren Gatland, say: "We had instructed our players to be really strong, to be really disciplined and not retaliate. We want to be hard and aggressive but it's an aspect of our game that at times has been a little bit over the top and if we want to go forward and improve as a rugby team then we have to be very disciplined and I was very pleased with that today."

And man of the moment, hooker Keith Wood, admitted afterwards: "Warren made us promise that our discipline would be almost religious, a turn the other cheek kind of thing and we did that." So much so that Peter Clohessy, Ireland's hard prop said to Gatland in the dressing-room: "I took a punch for you today," a pause, "and it hurt."

But it was worth it. Every Welsh misdemeanour was punished by David Humphreys, who had clearly recovered from his personal trauma against France, to land three penalties, two conversions and two drop goals. Indeed he only missed two kicks all afternoon, a drop goal late in the game and a 13th minute penalty.

"I didn't think back to the France game," said Humph-reys, "but I was quite glad that the first kick was early as it was, it was preferable to having to wait for a while. I think the pressure would probably have built up otherwise and I was pretty relieved to see the ball sailing between the posts."

The Irish did not have things all their own way. Despite their supremacy at the line-out and few problems at the set-pieces - until Wales brought on replacement hooker Garin Jenkins shortly after the interval - the Wales defence proved to be no pushover. Scott Gibbs and Mark Taylor tackled furiously as did Scott Quinnell, Colin Charvis and Martyn Williams around the fringes.

But where the Irish seem able to run at the opposition from Conor O'Shea at 15 to Wood at hooker, the Welsh lacked either the confidence or the ability to do so themselves. The repeated bullocking rushes of the hefty Irish beef frequently scattered the flock of Welsh lambs to all parts and was quite a contrast to the almost static approach of the home side when they attempted to go forward, especially in the first half.

Wood was a nuisance all day. He was always to be found where the Welsh did not want to see him - in their faces, and, in the 47th minute, on his stomach over the line, scoring his first try in the Five Nations. In fact he produced a startling fact: "It is almost embarrassing to say, but this is my first Five Nations win. That's why I was particularly animated at the end."

Considering he made his debut against England in 1995 that sounds quite a statistic, but it has to be said that the Wales match was only his ninth in the tournament in the five years since then.

The Irish readily admitted that they had not played as well as they did against France a fortnight ago, but it was still good enough, even if they did step off the gas midway through the second half, although to be fair to Wales, they suddenly remembered what they can do when they put their minds to it.

Scott Quinnell and Charvis, Chris Wyatt and Craig Quinnell took the Irish on at their own game and almost, almost, won it for Wales. But throughout the match it was Ireland's defensive qualities as much as anything which saved the day. All too often a Welsh breakaway would be confronted by one or two gritty green shirts if not a whole washing line of them ready to repel all boarders with no prisoners.

There were still plenty of pluses for Henry to work on. Gibbs, apart from one inadvertent clothes-line tackle which felled the ox-like Wood and left him prone for a minute or two, was his usual impeccable self. Rookie wing Matthew Robinson looks to have the potential to take other sides and the world by storm, and Wyatt grows in confidence.

"We are out of the Five Nations," acknowledged Henry, "so the pressure is off in that regard. We just have to have a positive attitude going into the England and France matches."

Which is precisely what the Irish, with all the pressure of expectation they could ever want, intend doing as they have a stab at winning the Triple Crown, beginning with England in Dublin in a fortnight. Gatland said: "I don't think too many people would like to come to Lansdowne Road at the moment." He could be right about that.

Wales: Tries C Quinnell, Howarth; Conversions Jenkins 2; Penalties Jenkins 3.

Ireland: Tries Maggs, Wood; Conversions Humphreys 2; Penalties Humphreys 3; Drop goals Humphreys 2.

WALES: S Howarth (Sale); M Robinson, M Taylor, S Gibbs (all Swansea), D James; N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); D Morris (Swansea), B Williams (Richmond), D Young (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Richmond), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), M Williams (Pontypridd).

Replacements: M Voyle (Llanelli) for M Williams, 28-34; G Jenkins (Swansea) for B Williams, 45; C Anthony (Swansea) for Young, 67.

IRELAND: C O'Shea; J Bishop (both London Irish), K Maggs (Bath), J Bell (Dungannon), N Woods (London Irish); D Humphreys (Dungannon), C McGuinness (St Mary's College); P Clohessy (Young Munster), K Wood (Harlequins), P Wallace, P Johns (both Saracens, capt), J Davidson (Castres), D O'Cuinneagain (Sale), E Miller (Terenure College), A Ward (Ballynahinch).

Replacements: V Costello (St Mary's College) for Miller, 67; J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon) for Clohessy, 67; M Galwey (Shannon) for Johns, 79.

Referee: S Young (Australia).