My second trip to Cardiff during the 6 Nations meant a change of allegiance, it’d felt a little strange not supporting Wales when England visited, but, I am English so England it had to be. With Ireland in town however I was back to supporting the home team. That seems a bot strange for someone without a drop of Welsh blood but I’ve always been an admirer of Welsh rugby and the Principality (I still prefer Millennium) Stadium really is my favourite place to watch international rugby!
I had the company of my good friend Monica, which was an added bonus, we had a good try to Bristol where we were staying. We stopped off for a late lunch at the Willy Wicket, largely because the name amused us! The service it has to be said didn’t amuse us, it took 50 minutes for our starters to arrive, the knock on effect was that we were later going into Cardiff than planned.
We checked into our hotel, the Mercure Bristol North before setting off to the Park & Ride at the Cardiff City Stadium. The later trip meant traffic of course, one of the joys of driving into Cardiff, especially on a Friday evening, we still arrived into town in plenty in time.
One of the true highlights of the Principality Stadium are the Welsh Male Voice Choirs, there really is nothing to compare and this Friday evening was no exception, they were simply wonderful! Cardiff is the ground where every teams’ national anthem sounds its best with the choir joining in. As well as Delilah and Bread of Heaven it was great to hear the Fields of Athenry ringing round the stadium.
This game had great significance for Wales in particular for the World rankings, with the 2019 World Cup draw due in May it was a key game for the home team to win to prevent a repeat of the 2015 ‘group of death’, this 6 Nations hadn’t been going too well for them and I’d say that in spite of home advantage Ireland were starting as favourites.
However you can never count Wales out in Cardiff, they were the better team against England for 70 minutes and came out all guns blazing against Ireland. Their defence was ferocious as Ross Moriarty, who’s had a great 6 Nations, Justin Tipuric, making his 50th appearance for his country and Sam Warburton, back to his best with no captaincy to weight him down, dominated the Irish Back Row. Alun Wyn Jones had a huge game too, he has passion galore for his country and played his heart out.
George North had faced public criticism from his coaches and had a point to prove, he was back to his marauding best and scored the first try of the match after 19 minutes. Ireland were camped on their line 16 minutes later when Jonny Sexton transgressed, Wayne Barnes didn’t hesitate to issue a yellow card, it wasn’t good to see Sexton remonstrating with the officials, I’ve never seen one change his mind on that basis yet! With penalties from Sexton and Paddy Jackson and one from Leigh Halfpenny the teams went in with the scores on Wales 8 Ireland 6
The loss of Sexton was damaging to Ireland’s chances and North capitalised on that with his second try on 43 minutes. With a 9 point difference could Wales hold on to the lead? They’d enjoyed 58% of the possession in the first half and made the most of it, that was to turn around in the second with 62% of that possession going to Ireland, they spent 64% of the time in Wales half. A massive defensive effort ensured that Ireland didn’t breach the try line however. Warburton made 21 tackles during the match with Tipuric following closely behind with 20.
Jonny Sexton returned to add a penalty for Ireland and it looked like Rory Best had added a try, but a moment of madness from Robbie Henshaw who joined the maul in front of the ball carrier saw the try disallowed and a clearing penalty awarded to Wales.
Jamie Roberts had entered the fray, I believe he’s approaching the end of his Welsh career as Wild Cards become scarce, he capitalised on a poor kick at the other end to score Wales 3rd try to the delight of the home crowd, the conversion took the score to Wales 22 Ireland 9, giving Wales and unassailable lead with the time remaining.
Conor Murray had left the field with what looked like a shoulder injury, he’s a key player for Ireland, his absence as well as Sexton’s, who also had to leave the field for an HIA had a very negative effect on the Irish. Murray has also been ruled out of the match against England, which may hamper Ireland’s hopes of preventing a second successive Grand Slam for their opposition.