Rugby Sports Digest: Last minute penalty seals Welsh win
Wales 23 Ireland 21
English referee Wayne Bridges left the Aviva Stadium with boos ringing in his ears after a dramatic final minute turnaround in the opening RBS Six Nations game of the season on Sunday gave Wales a 23 to 21 win over Ireland.
Ireland’s Grand Slam ambitions and Triple Crown hopes evaporated in the closing seconds of this Celtic derby, with Bridges the villain as far as the home crowd were concerned.
The match official drew the ire of the majority of the 50,000 supporters present when he penalized Stephen Ferris for a spear tackle challenge on Welsh lock Ian Evans.
Things went from bad to worse when Ferris was sin-binned and Leigh Halfpenny sent the resultant penalty over the crossbar to seal the two win point for the Welsh.
Bridges was roundly booed for the decision to yellow card Ferris, but he had sent Welshman Bradley Davies to the bin for an earlier spear tackle incident with substitute Donnacha Ryan.
Davies could now face further punishment for his offense, while Ireland fans are still livid that Ferris was penalized and Wales handed the match winning penalty on a plate by Bridges.
Irish number eight Jamie Heaslip refused to blame Barnes for the loss.
“Sometimes these calls go against you,” said Heaslip. There’s no point in saying, ‘Is it a penalty? Isn’t it a penalty?’ It’s done. It’s always tough to win a game when a team beats you by three tries to two.”
However, while the end result was a repeat of the World Cup win for Wales earlier in the year, in truth few of those present could have had any argument with the outcome.
Ireland did lead 10-5 at the break, after a fine Rory Best try set up by a brilliant pass from Jonathon Sexton, but Declan Kidney’s team were never really at the races.
The game did appear to be going their way when Tommy Bowe was sent across the line 12 minutes from time but Wales were always the better side.
They scored three tries on the day to Ireland’s two, with youngster George North, scorer of the third and final try, a contender for man of the match.
Jonathan Davies also crossed the Irish line twice as Wales made a mockery of their injury crisis and sent out a Championship message of their own when they took advantage of that late Ferris error.
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell admitted afterwards, “We gave Wales a lot of ball earlier in the game that we shouldn’t have done.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the game but we conceded eight points in the last five minutes. We also conceded a lot of momentum in the first half and gave them a lot of belief.
“We struggled to get into the game in the first half, and you can’t give a team that length of time with ball in hand. Defensively, we will have some work to do. We conceded a lot of ground and yardage at times, but when we attacked, we played with intensity.”
Kidney added, “We will take a good look at what we can solve ourselves. We gave Wales some easy field position, and they made inroads.
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