Ireland denied a win at the death in Paul O’Connell’s final game at the Aviva

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By Simon Lewis

Ireland 10 Wales 16

Ireland’s nine-match unbeaten home run came to a cruel end at the Aviva Stadium today as Paul O’Connell waved goodbye to Irish fans and both Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald were forced off with injuries.

In Ireland’s last game before head coach Joe Schmidt decides his World Cup squad for next month’s tournament in England and Cardiff, the home side was second best as Leigh Halfpenny capitalised on indiscipline at the breakdown to slot two second-half penalties after the game had been tied 10-10 at half-time.

More worrying will be the head/neck injury suffered by wing Earls, which saw the Munster back stretchered off in the 63rd minute, quickly followed by Fitzgerald, apparently struggling with his hip.

That left Ireland with just six backs on the field with forward Donnacha Ryan his replacement and Jordi Murphy switching from the back row to midfield.

It was that kind of day and one which ended in a downpour with Ireland denied a try at the death after the outstanding Welsh defence held up Sean Cronin under the posts with time up.

An undercooked Welsh team had been blown away by Ireland in Cardiff inside 50 minutes three weeks ago but this was a very different side sent over by Warren Gatland to seek revenge.

It may have been O’Connell’s last Test on home soil but a near-full strength Wales seemed intent on spoiling the occasion.

There was a landmark of their own to celebrate with wing George North, still only 23, winning his 50th cap on his return from a five-month leave of absence due to successive concussions and he was not the only Welshman with a spring in his step.

The visitors had started much the brighter, causing Ireland headaches at the breakdown with openside flanker Justin Tipuric outstanding in the tackle and its aftermath.

It got Wales on the front foot and after Iain Henderson was penalised for not rolling away 13 minutes in, the ensuing Dan Biggar kick to the corner led to a penalty further upfield, Leigh Halfpenny slotting over from the right to put his side in front in the 18th minute.

More pressure came to bear as Irish indiscipline at the breakdown continued and with the home side still on the back foot, Wales used their driving maul to get results, winning successive penalties.

With Ireland collapsing and put on notice by referee Craig Joubert, the third attempt produced a try, Gethin Jenkins sent over the line in the 23rd minute, Halfpenny’s conversion sending Wales into a deserved 10-0 lead.

Johnny Sexton finally got Ireland on the scoreboard five minutes later with a penalty and the Joe Schmidt’s side began to hit their stride but it took until the stroke of half-time for a breakthrough.

This time it was home pressure that reaped rewards, a Welsh lineout mishap getting Ireland on the front foot.

That was followed by a scrum penalty on five metres and then a ruck penalty which opened the door for Henderson to power over under the posts, Sexton levelling the scores at 10-10 with his conversion to end the half.

The interval did not break Ireland’s momentum but while they dominated early second-half possession there was little headway made against a still resolute Wales defence.

Instead, it was Earls’s worrying injury that was the focus of attention before Ireland’s late but fruitless rally.

IRELAND: R Kearney; K Earls (F Jones, 63), L Fitzgerald (D Ryan, 67), R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton (P Jackson, 63), C Murray (E Reddan, 63); J McGrath (D Kilcoyne, 60), R Strauss (S Cronin, 50), N White (T Furlong, 56); I Henderson, P O’Connell – captain; P O’Mahony (S O’Brien, 51), J Murphy, J Heaslip.

WALES: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, S Williams, J Roberts (H Amos, 60), G North; D Biggar (R Priestland, 63), R Webb (G Davies, 63); G Jenkins (P James, 46), K Owens (S Baldwin, 54), T Francis (A Jarvis, 53) ; B Davies (L Charteris, 53), A W Jones – captain (J King, 72); D Lydiate (J King, 51-60), J Tipuric, T Faletau.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

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