Wales's first win in seven home matches stretching back almost a year, and the end to Ireland's Triple Crown hopes, was achieved in farcical circumstances with a conspicuously illegal try awarded by the world's most experienced Test referee and his Scottish assistant.
Not that the Millennium Stadium multitude cared much, as the Welsh moved up to second in the Six Nations table. A couple of hundred miles away from the row over Mike Phillips's second-half score, England were quietly patting each other on the back, knowing that the Championship title will be as good as won on points difference, with one round still to play, if they beat Scotland today.
Not for the first time with the damnably complicated officiating that goes with this great sport, we were left thumbing the lawbook when we should have been glorying in Brian O'Driscoll's record-equalling 24th Championship try, or praising Wales's cool goal-kicking or debating the timing of Ireland's substitutions.
The facts of the farce were that with 49 minutes gone Jonny Sexton – just on as fly-half replacement for Ronan O'Gara – kicked the ball out on the full, from a position about five metres inside Ireland's half, and into the crowd. A ball boy dutifully presented Wales's hooker and captain, Matthew Rees, with a replacement ball. Which was all fine. Rees took a quick throw-in to his scrum-half, Phillips, who sprinted to score at the left-hand corner before Ireland's Tommy Bowe could cover. This was not fine at all.
The relevant law, 19.2, says for a quick throw-in "the player must use the ball that went into touch" and "a quick throw-in is not permitted if another person has touched the ball". Goodness knows how the assistant, Peter Allan, was able to advise the referee, South Africa's Jonathan Kaplan, that the try should stand. Kaplan could argue he was looking infield when the ball went out.
Though O'Driscoll had not seen the error, half his team raised protests. But Ireland's captain, demanding the referee consult the television match official, was shooed away.
Rees said: "I just took the ball that was in front of me." O'Driscoll said: "If I was wrong [like that] I would be embarrassed. Wrong calls are made the whole time but certain ones are unforgivable." O'Driscoll was probably barking up the wrong tree – the TMO can rule only on the act of scoring and the line-out would have been beyond his remit - but you could understand his biting on the question.
The try and James Hook's conversion had Wales ahead for the first time, 16-13, and Sexton missed a straightforward penalty five minutes later while Hook stuck over a penaltyfrom a line-out in the 69th minute. Ireland had their chance to nick it: Sexton spiralled a penalty into touch in the Welsh 22. The line-out was won and a penalty was earned but Paddy Wallace cut inside on an overlap and was stopped, then a hefty tackle by Jamie Roberts on Cian Healy snuffed the move out for good.
Ireland had a costly rap sheetbefore this of 33 points conceded from penalties to six in their favour. Kaplan hammered their forwards afresh in the first half: Sean O'Brien for not releasing, Rory Best for going off his feet, O'Brien in at the side and so on. Hook hit a post with his first attempt, before succeeding in the 20th and 28th minutes, then the long-range specialist Leigh Halfpenny belted one over from 47 metres after 37 minutes.
Despite this, Ireland led 13-9 at half-time. They had a try in two minutes – their scrum-half, Eoin Reddan, was already off the field after taking a ball full in the face from Lee Byrne's kick – when Bowe skirted his Ospreys team-mate Alun Wyn Jones and released O'Driscoll to equal the 78-year-old record held by Scotland's Ian Smith. That was converted byO'Gara, to make the fly-half the fifth man to reach 1,000 points in Tests, and he kicked a penalty five minutes before Halfpenny's monster effort.
Just before half-time O'Gara kicked a second penalty but Wales defended well and were well served by Hook. In the side for his expansive attitude, he also showed his fine kicking skills out of the hand, driving the Irish back long distances. There was only one clear chance for Shane Williams to add to his 22 Six Nations tries – the magician wing tried a grubber that, funnily enough, O'Driscoll tidied up – but Wales did not care. They got what they so badly wanted and head to France on Saturday with relief and, if the Scots do them a favour today, still a shot at the title.
Wales: L Byrne; L Halfpenny, J Roberts, J Davies, S Williams; J Hook, M Phillips; P James, M Rees (capt; R Hibbard, 72), C Mitchell (J Yapp, 12), B Davies, AW Jones, D Lydiate, R Jones (J Thomas, 59), S Warburton.
Ireland: L Fitzgerald (P Wallace, 72); T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; R O'Gara (J Sexton, 49), E Reddan (P Stringer, 1); C Healy, R Best (S Cronin, 75), M Ross (T Court, 69), D O'Callaghan (L Cullen, 75), P O'Connell, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (D Leamy, 70), D Wallace.
Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).Reuse content