Off-key Ireland hold slender lead at the break

Wales 9 Ireland 12

Wales 9 Ireland 12

Ireland took a narrow lead into half-time of a tense RBS 6 Nations clash at the Millennium Stadium.

Ulster hooker Rory Best crossed with 47 seconds on the clock to give the Triple Crown holders a stunning early lead but Wales responded with three Stephen Jones penalties.

The Welsh dominated the first half hour but Ireland settled with Brian O’Driscoll showing neat finishing skills for a try that Ronan O’Gara converted.

A major blunder from Stephen Jones saw Ireland take the lead after just 47 seconds with the Wales fly-half taking too long with a clearance that was charged down by Brian O'Driscoll.

The ball fell kindly for Rory Best and the Ulster hooker collapsed over the line to put an early dent in Welsh victory hopes.

Ronan O’Gara missed the conversion but two mistakes from O’Driscoll in quick succession – a poor grubber and then a dropped up-and-under – allowed Wales to attack.

Girvan Dempsey made a timely tackle on Hal Luscombe as the Harlequins winger threatened on the right and Ireland conceded a penalty when the move broke down, allowing Jones to boot three points.

A bulldozing run from Gordon D’Arcy – which saw the little Leinster centre brush aside a tackle from Jones – steadied the visitors and a cheeky slight of hands from Denis Hickie almost resulted in a try in the left corner.

O’Gara missed a second shot at goal, this time a penalty, and Ireland were back under pressure in the 18th minute when a chip and chase from Kevin Morgan swept Wales into opposition territory.

Scrambling defence kept the home side at bay but a line-out catch and drive saw the Irish crack, conceding a penalty that Jones nudged between the uprights.

The scrum was expected to Ireland’s weak link but they shoved Wales back in the 22nd minute with a well-timed drive.

However, the good work was undone when O’Gara produced a loose kick which was returned with interest as Wales poured forward.

Ospreys number eight Ryan Jones could have given the ball when he had an overlap on the left but Wales finished with a penalty which Jones landed.

Hickie left the pitch with his face covered in blood after sustaining a nasty cut on his forehead and Murphy came on as his replacement.

Desperate defending from Denis Leamy kept Jones out in the right corner as Wales continued to pin their opponents back, helped by some poor kicking from O’Gara.

Ryan Jones, who had picked up an injury, was replaced by Gavin Thomas and the change coincided with a Irish revival.

O’Gara finally shook off the nerves that had plagued him in the opening half hour, producing a magnificent touchfinder that pushed Wales back to their own line.

The Munster fly-half then sent a long pass to O’Driscoll, who stepped inside Chris Czekaj and rode the tackle of Morgan to touch down. O’Gara converted the try.

Wales: K. Morgan, Luscombe, Robinson, Hook, Czekaj, S. Jones, Peel, Jenkins, R. Thomas, Horsman, A. Jones, Gough, Popham, M. Williams, R. Jones.

Replacements: Rees, D. Jones, Sidoli, G. Thomas, Phillips, Sweeney, Brew.

Ireland: Dempsey, Trimble, B. O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Hickie, O’Gara, Stringer, Horan, R. Best, Hayes, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Easterby, D. Wallace, Leamy.

Replacements: Flannery, S. Best, N. Best, M. O’Driscoll, Boss, P. Wallace, G. Murphy.

Referee: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)

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