George North leads the way as resilient Wales clinch victory to dent Ireland's Six Nations hopes

Wales 22 Ireland 9: The Northampton Saints winger scored two key tries in a thrilling Friday night encounter at the Principality Stadium

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Wales’ stuttering stars proved their value to the red jersey with a stunning performance to end Ireland’s Six Nations title hopes.

Rob Howley declared his side ‘had not become a bad team overnight’ when he announced an unchanged side, and he was vindicated after this dramatic 22-9 triumph at the Principality Stadium.

George North led the resurgent Wales performance with a pair of tries as Ireland struggled to cope with his power and pace. 

Wales had only mustered two tries in their previous two Six Nations defeats, but they showed their cutting edge to overcome Joe Schmidt’s hotly tipped side.

Northampton Saints wing North brought two Irish defenders over the try-line with him as he finished off a free-flowing move in the first-half. 

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George North celebrates with Rhys Webb after scoring his side's second try (Getty)

Johnny Sexton was then sin-binned, and Howley’s men struck again when North crossed out wide five minutes after the interval, and Jamie Roberts finished the job with an opportunistic late score.

Much of the pre-match chatter was centred around the battle of the half-backs. 

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland would have surely had Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton pencilled into the nine and 10 jerseys, but the Ospreys duo of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar had one last chance to stake their claim.

Ireland stuck with the same XV that battled hard to victory in France, while Wales’ stuttering stars had been given a shot at redemption following their Murrayfield capitulation.

Wales had only scored two tries in the defats to Scotland and England, but they could not complain about conditions under the closed Principality Stadium roof.

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Conor Murray receives treatment after taking a knock (Getty)

The signs were ominous for the hosts from the off when captain and talisman Alun Wyn Jones had the ball stripped from his grasp to set Ireland and Simon Zebo on a threatening attack.

Wales cleared the ball, but Ireland counter attacked and were awarded a penalty after Rhys Webb’s tackle on Robbie Henshaw was deemed high. 

Sexton stepped up and landed the tricky penalty to give Ireland a 3-0 advantage after five minutes.

The Wales backline fired its first shot in reply when George North twice showed his power and pace to take his side down into the Irish 22.

But as was the case in Edinburgh, Jonathan Davies knocked the ball on under pressure to give the visitors an easy out.

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Sam Warburton is held up by Ireland's defence (Getty)

CJ Stander then went on a trademark charge through Scott Williams and down into Wales territory to set up a dangerous attack. 

Ireland won a penalty to pile the pressure on, but just when his men needed him most, skipper Jones rose highest to steal the resulting line-out - and Wales made the most of their reprieve.

Ross Moriarty made a half-break in midfield and offloaded to Rhys Webb, who delivered an inch perfect long pass to the oncoming Leigh Halfpenny.

The full-back handed the ball off to North, who powered his way past Simon Zebo and Kieth Earls from 15 metres out to score at the corner.

Halfpenny missed the chance to add an extra two points from out-wide and their advantage was short lived when Paddy Jackson landed a penalty in the absence of Sexton, who was undergoing a HIA, to move Ireland 6-5 ahead.

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Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty for Ireland (Getty)

To the relief of those wearing green in the Principality Stadium, Sexton was given the clear to return, but moments later Murray took a heavy blow to the arm which looked to effect his passing in the latter stages of the first-half.

Ireland looked to have survived without incident until Webb found Liam Williams with a cross-kick. 

He combined with Halfpenny before Davies looked to have crossed, but Sexton had slowed the ball illegally on his own line.

The outside-half was shown yellow, and Halfpenny landed a simple three points to give Wales a narrow 8-6 at half-time.

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Warburton receives at a line-out for Wales (Getty)

The hosts came out early before the second period to sharpen their skills with a mini warm-up, and the ploy worked five minutes into the half.

Webb pounced on a loose ball before sending a kick toward the Ireland try line. Halfpenny snaffled up the covering Murray into touch.

Wales drove the line-out towards the line but Ireland held-firm. But North sprinted from the openside to the blind, receiving a pass from Webb to have an easy run-in.

Halfpenny was on-target with the conversion to give Wales a 15-8 lead, 10 of those points coming while Sexton was off the pitch having been shown a yellow card for killing the ball on Ireland's try-line.

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The roof was on for Friday night's clash at the Principality Stadium (Getty)

Ireland went straight back on the attack in this enthralling encounter, but they had to settle for a penalty after Dan Biggar hit Garry Ringrose above the shoulders right in-front of the posts.

Wales soaked up a barrage of Ireland pressure before Roberts pounced on Taulupe Faletau’s charge-down to complete the 22-9 victory.

Wales: Halfpenny, North, J Davies, S Williams (Roberts, 66), L Williams, Biggar (S Davies, 79), Webb (G Davies, 66), Evans (Smith, 66), Owens (Baldwin, 71), Francis (Lee, 69), Ball (Charteris, 62), Jones (capt), Warburton, Tipuric, Moriarty (Faletau, 66).

Tries – North (2), Roberts.  Conversions - Halfpenny (2).  Penalties - Halfpenny.

Ireland: Kearney, Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Zebo, Sexton (Jackson 19-26, 79), Murray (Marmion, 45), McGrath (Healy, 59), Best (capt) (Scannell 79), Furlong (J Ryan, 79), D Ryan, Toner (Henderson, 62), Stander (O’Mahony, 63), O’Brien, Heaslip.

Penalties – Sexton (2), Jackson.

Sin-Bin – Sexton

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Attendance: 74,500.

 

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