George North answers his critics, Johnny Sexton absence proves crucial and Wayne Barnes is on the money

Five things we learned: Ireland punished for missing their chances and why Friday night rugby is suited to Cardiff

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North answers his critics but Wales unlock the key

There aren’t many players who can create something out of nothing, and the problem for Wales against Scotland two weeks’ ago is that every time they tried to bring George North into the game, the Scottish defence were on the attack.

It was a very different story early on against Ireland. Smart play from Scott Williams and Rhys Webb, with a beautiful wide pass to Leigh Halfpenny, meant that the Irish defensive line was back-pedalling by the time North got his hands on the ball. That allowed the towering wing to run onto the ball at speed, and charge through attempted tackles from Keith Earls and Simon Zebo.

North copped some unfair criticism against Scotland given it’s not his job to be the miracle man, even if he has performed such tricks in the past. It’s up to the likes of Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies to bring North into the game with space to run in, and when they do he can be devastating.

Half-backs wear the bruises of a punishing first half

First it was Jonathan Sexton going off for an Head Injury Assessment, then it was Conor Murray finishing the first half with one working arm, and finally Sexton heading to the sin-bin when he got caught killing the ball after a last-ditch tackle on Davies. The Irish half-backs may have proven their metal, but it came at a cost.

Sexton wore a nasty, but accidental, knee to the face that caused his left eye to swell, and he certainly looked like he’d been in a battle come the end of the match.

Ireland miss their chances to pull a Wales

The first three matches has seen plenty of talk about Wales, taking their chances and making wrong decisions. First half penalties went begging against Italy, the same happened against England along with a period of domination after the break, and the less said about the decision-making between Alun Wyn Jones and his kicker, Leigh Halfpenny, during the loss to Scotland, the better.

But this time Wales didn’t put a foot wrong. They took their chances clinically to score twice through George North, kicked for posts when it was the right options and corners to build pressure, and even when Dan Biggar saw a drop-goal hit the upright, it was the right call, just lacked execution.

The same cannot be said of Ireland. Countless times they turned down kicked at goal to go for the corner. The first time, Alun Wyn Jones rose to snatch the lineout, and Luke Charteris would do the same upon his arrival in the second half. Other times, Ireland’s poor handling would let them down and Wales off the hook, and while the neglected kicks at goal wouldn’t have been enough to bridge the 13-point deficit, they would have changed the game and forced Wales to come from behind to win it. Once again, the Six Nations proves his key it is to make the right decision.

Friday night’s work in Cardiff – as long as the game fits the bill

The RFU sensibly rejected hosting any Six Nations matches on Friday night’s for the foreseeable future, given the chaos that leaving Twickenham can cause. But in Cardiff, something just feels right about Friday night rugby. The atmosphere created inside the Principality Stadium is suited to the night time as the fireworks and flamethrowers light up the dark sky above, while the cauldron that is created by the home fans really gets the hair standing up on the back of your neck.

The Six Nations organisers want more grounds to commit to Friday night matches, but unless a stadium can recreate the fiery atmosphere that’s created in Cardiff, then it simply won’t feel right.

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Six Nations rugby on a Friday night simply works in Cardiff (Getty)

Barnes on the money to take spotlight off referees.

The opening weekend of the Six Nations wasn’t a great one for referees in the middle, but in Cardiff Wayne Barnes got every big decision right. He was given criticism from those fans in green for not producing a yellow card when three Welsh penalties in quick succession stopped the Irish attack, but given it was very early in the game and none of them were blatant try-stoppers, it felt right to err on the side of caution.

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Wayne Barnes correctly penalises Robbie Henshaw for joining a maul in front of the ball (Getty)

When Ireland transgressed on their line, Sexton had to go to the sin-bin for killing the ball, and Barnes promptly produced the yellow card. But his finest decision was still in the locker, as when the Irish pack looked to be heading over the line for Rory Best to score and drag them back into the game – and most likely in front with a one-point deficit and conversion to come – Barnes spotted Robbie Henshaw charging into the maul in an offside position.

Ireland didn’t like it, but Barnes was spot on.

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