Wales 9 Ireland 19: O'Driscoll injury puts Irish jubilation on ice

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The Independent Online

By the time their captain, Brian O'Driscoll, hobbled off the Millennium Stadium pitch five minutes from the end of the match, Ireland had completed their own version of a great escape. It had been one tough test.

O'Driscoll hurt his right hamstring and is a serious doubt for Sunday's match against France at Croke Park, despite his immediate treatment with an ice pack. It is likely that Wales's wounded pride will also have needed the ice treatment, but probably in conjunction with a stiff Scotch as well.

This was Ireland's ninth win in their last 11 internationals in Cardiff, keeping intact their title and, dare it be stated, Grand Slam hopes. It was never a certainty. The pre-match favourites were, at times, off the pace. Wales made most of the running and the first half saw an almost permanent red tide pouring into Irish territory.

The Wales backs showed great invention, none more so than the full-back, Kevin Morgan, who seemed to spend the whole match running at the Irish in potent counter-attacks. Yet for all their position and possession all Wales had to show for their lung-bursting effort and enterprise was three first-half penalties from their captain and fly-half, Stephen Jones.

They had been knocked on to the back foot in just 47 seconds. The left wing, Chris Czekaj, fielded the ball in his 22 and passed to Jones. The fly-half took forever to set up a clearance kick and gave O'Driscoll ample time to charge it down. The ball bobbled to Ireland's hooker, Rory Best, and the Ulsterman trundled over the line for the second try of his Test career.

The home side launched themselves at the Irish. They pressed hard upfield, won a penalty and Jones got them on to the scoreboard. From then on it seemed to be all Wales.

When Ireland lost their left wing, Denis Hickie, to a nasty gash on the head his temporary replacement, Geordan Murphy, added some structure to the Irish back line. The Leicester full-back hoisted a Garryowen that soared towards the clear blue sky - the roof had been left open for the game - and skated through the scattered defence to regather his kick. Once the ball had been recycled, Ireland's backs formed an orderly queue.

O'Driscoll applied the final touch, stepping inside Czekaj and stretching an arm over the line while in Morgan's despairing embrace. Wales were behind.

Ronan O'Gara, who had a troubled time with his kicking out of hand, missing touch or not getting enough length, knocked over the conversion.

Wales came out after the break bristling with intent and imagination and there were a couple of wonderful spells of handling among backs and forwards. Somehow, Ireland resisted. They did have some official help early on in the second half when Morgan sent Czekaj storming towards the left-hand corner.

The 21-year-old, winning his third cap, sent a delicate grubber kick through the advancing defenders and chased hard, only to be prevented from reaching the ball as it crossed the line by Ireland's canny flanker, Simon Easterby. How the referee, Kelvin Deaker, did not award a penalty to Wales was anyone's guess and the crowd howled its disapproval, quite rightly feeling that Easterby should have been shown a yellow card.

He wasn't and Ireland pushed Wales back into their 22. The outstanding Gordon D'Arcy ran right and slipped out of Czekaj's grasp. Wales were forced hard on to the back foot and suddenly O'Gara, displaying a surprising amount of strength, managed to force his way over in the corner.

Naturally, he and the whole of Ireland were made to wait for confirmation from the video referee, but the score was upheld and the Munster fly-half added the conversion to make victory safe.

Wales: Penalties S Jones 3. Ireland: Tries R Best, O'Driscoll, O'Gara; Conversions O'Gara 2.

Wales: K Morgan (Newport-Gwent Dragons); H Luscombe (Harlequins), J Robinson (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), C Czekaj (Blues); S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets; capt), D Peel (Scarlets); G Jenkins, R Thomas (both Blues), C Horsman (Worcester), I Gough (Dragons), A W

Jones (Ospreys), A Popham (Scarlets), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys). Replacements: M Rees (Scarlets) for R Thomas, 70; D Jones (Ospreys) for Horsman, 58; R Sidoli (Blues) for Gough, 44-52 & 76; G Thomas (Scarlets) for R Jones, 34-40 & for Williams, 77; M Phillips (Blues) for Peel, 80; A Brew (Dragons) for Luscombe, 63.

Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster); A Trimble (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, D Hickie (all Leinster); R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan (all Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (all Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli), D Wallace, D Leamy (both Munster). Replacements: J Flannery (Munster) for R Best, 68; G Murphy (Leicester) for Hickie, 27-36 & for O'Driscoll, 80.

Referee: K Deaker (New Zealand).

Millennium Stadium details

WALES

Scrums won/lost 7/0
Lineouts won/lost 18/4
Pens conceded 7
Turnovers won 10
Passes completed 125
Line breaks 5
Possession kicked 31
Tackles made/missed 62/13
Total errors made 23

IRELAND

Scrums won/lost 13/0
Lineouts won/lost 14/2
Pens conceded 10
Turnovers won 13
Passes completed 92
Line breaks 5
Possession kicked 35
Tackles made/missed 72/8
Total errors made 16

TOP CARRIES

K Morgan (Wales) 8
Hook (Wales) 7
Robinson (Wales) 5

TOP TACKLERS

O'Driscoll (Ireland) 9
Wallace (Ireland) 8
Hayes (Ireland) 8

MOST OFF-LOADS

M Williams (Wales) 3
Popham (Wales) 3
D'Arcy (Ireland) 2

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