Six Nations: Wales 22 Ireland 30
WALES suffered a demoralising start to their Six Nations title defence as Ireland resisted their second-half revival to win 30-22 at the Millennium Stadium.
Ireland were imperious in the first half as they scored two tries to build a commanding 23-3 half-time lead but, although that advantage was extended by another seven points, Wales fought back.
Tries from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell gave the reigning champions hope, but they were left to rue a dismal first period as they slumped to an eighth successive defeat.
Rob Howley's side looked every bit a team who had lost their last seven matches in the opening exchanges, and memories of their miserable autumn whitewash came flooding back when Ireland took an early lead.
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Brian O'Driscoll was the architect, drawing in three hapless Welsh defenders before offloading brilliantly to wing Simon Zebo, who sped over for the game's opening try.
Jonny Sexton converted and, with Wales struggling to resist a deluge of Irish pressure, he kicked a penalty to stretch Ireland's advantage to 10-0.
The visitors were rampant and, with 25 minutes played, victory already seemed assured for Declan Kidney's men.
Their second try came in remarkable circumstances. Hooker Rory Best launched the attack with a charge-down before passing to Jamie Heaslip, who then found Zebo.
The ball fell awkwardly for the wing but he showed the skills of a seasoned Champions League footballer to flick it up from his heel and into his hands.
Zebo could not make it to the try line but, when the reinforcements arrived, Ireland made the pressure count as prop Cian Healy touched down from close range.
Another conversion and penalty from Sexton made it 20-0 to Ireland, and the groans of despair from the Millennium Stadium were briefly allayed when Halfpenny scored Wales's first points with a penalty.
That seemed to lift the hosts, who rattled through the phases and came close to a try before Jamie Roberts was penalised for holding the ball just short of the line.
Sexton compounded their frustration to give Ireland a 23-3 half-time lead with another penalty, and things got even worse for Wales after the restart as O'Driscoll snuck over from close range for Ireland's third try.
Seemingly down and out at 30-3 down, Wales responded with a try of their own as Cuthbert scythed through from the edge of the Ireland 22.
Halfpenny converted and, with the Millennium Stadium crowd stirring into life, Wales drove forward with maniacal determination.
As Ireland looked to stifle the resurgent hosts, Best was sent to the sin bin for infringing at the ruck and Wales made the one-man advantage count as Halfpenny finished smartly in the corner.
At 30-15 down, the match still seemed beyond Wales but a yellow card to Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray gave them a little more belief.
The pressure from Wales was incessant but Ireland repelled their attacks with unstintingly resolute defence, even if Mitchell did find a way through from close range.
Defeat left Wales's hopes of retaining their Six Nations crown in tatters but for Ireland, who play England and France at home this year, the prospect of a second Grand Slam in four years is a very real one.