Wales produced superior pace, power and purpose to defeat Ireland 22-10 in the first Rugby World Cup quarter-final at the Wellington Regional Stadium yesterday.
Ireland, who had headed their pool after defeating two-time champions Australia, failed to take advantage of the southerly wind in the first half and trailed 10-3 at the interval after a try in the second minute to Wales winger Shane Williams.
Wing Keith Earls replied for Ireland with a try in the corner four minutes into the second half and a match between the two Celtic rivals hung in the balance.
The game turned with a splendid try from Mike Phillips in the 50th minute. With Wales pressing hard on the Ireland line, the strapping scrumhalf raced around on the short side and dived over unopposed in the corner.
Jonathan Davies added a third against a team who had conceded only three in the group stages when he outpaced Gordon D’Arcy and handed off Cian Healey 15 minutes later.
Wales’ winning margin would have been even wider had flyhalf Rhys Priestland not hit the uprights twice with penalty attempts.
The match began in swirling rain and Jamie Roberts, who had another immense game at center, set up the Williams try which put Ireland immediately on the back foot when he gathered a towering Priestland punt and surged toward the line.
Wales spun the ball right, fullback Leigh Halfpenny fed Williams who went over in the corner. Priestland made a difficult touchline conversion look simple to add the two extra points.
Ireland opted to kick three penalties to touch within the Wales half rather than take shots at goal, but came away without any reward.
Flyhalf Ronan O’Gara finally put Ireland on the board after Williams was penalized for not releasing straight in front of the posts, but Ireland could not breach their opponents’ defense with Wales making 85 tackles in the first 40 minutes.
Halfpenny restored the seven-point margin with a splendid penalty kick against the wind from just inside the Ireland half and Wales would have been much the happier side at the break.
Ireland hit back immediately in the second half after Halfpenny was caught in possession fielding a Brian O’Driscoll grubber kick.
Ireland recycled the ball and, although scrumhalf Connor Murray’s pass ran along the ground, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe combined to recover the ball and put Earls over in the left corner.
A splendid conversion from O’Gara leveled the scores before Phillips and Davies put the game beyond Ireland’s reach.
Ireland rang the changes with Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton coming on in place of Murray and O’Gara, but they could not deny Wales a place in next week’s semi-finals.
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