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Wales ended Ireland’s Six Nations title hopes as George North’s brace helped the home side to victory at the Principality Stadium.
North, who had been warned about his form going into this game, scored in either half of a brutal encounter to help Rob Howley’s side get back to winning ways.
Ireland were hit by injuries to star pair Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton and a yellow card for the latter, but this was Wales somewhere closer to their potential as Jamie Roberts’ late try added gloss to the result.
The home team’s win means that England will virtually secure the championship if they defeat Scotland in their Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham this afternoon (Saturday).
As heavy pre-match favourites, Ireland started with a bang as Murray and Sexton controlled the early exchanges.
Sexton booted his team ahead, but when the Leinster fly-half suffered another blow to the head and was removed for a head injury assessment, Wales hit back.
A strong carry from Ross Moriarty saw man of the match Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny put a rampaging North into the corner. Halfpenny’s missed conversion allowed Paddy Jackson – who had replaced Sexton – to hit back, before Schmidt’s first-choice fly-half returned to the field.
It was a Test match of unprecedented physicality, Murray also brushing off a nasty blow after taking on North. Sexton’s mixed opening 40 then saw him yellow carded for slowing down Wales’ ball.
Halfpenny nailed the resulting kick to put his team 8-6 up at the break.
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Wales were out early for the start of the second half and with Sexton still in the bin, they soon moved further clear. From a driving line-out, Webb found North in space with the wing given an easy finish for his second try. Halfpenny nailed the touchline conversion.
Wales were suddenly 15-6 up and Ireland were dealt another blow when Murray’s knock caught up with him and he was forced off. Sexton’s return to the field gave the visitors renewed hope and his simple penalty narrowed their deficit just before the hour mark.
The final quarter was end-to-end as both teams refused to let up. Wales rung the changes and it looked as if Howley’s men would go down to yet another last-gasp defeat.
But despite incessant late Ireland pressure in their 22, the men in red held on as replacement Roberts added a late converted try after Sexton was charged down.
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