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Title chance disappears for Rory’s Ireland

Thursday, 16 March 2017

ACTON native and Ireland skipper Rory Best was left frustrated as his hopes of leading Ireland into an RBS Six Nations title showdown with England on St Patrick's weekend were dashed by Wales last Friday night.

The Welsh won 22-9 at Cardiff's Principality Stadium and ended up outscoring Ireland by three tries to nil but those statistics certainly don't do justice to what was a frighteningly ferocious contest that was in doubt up until the final few minutes.

Ultimately the match turned on a try by Best which was disallowed by English referee Wayne Barnes for a technical infringement by centre Robbie Henshaw and Wales killed the game off with a third try at the end by replacement centre Jamie Roberts.

There are very fine margins between winning and losing at the highest level and although Ireland will look back on some mistakes which cost them, Best's boys definitely didn't deserve the history books to record their heaviest defeat by the Welsh in recent times.

An Ireland win would have given the men in green a chance of being crowned champions at England's expense when the chariot rolls into Dublin for the final fixture of the competition at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday (5pm).

But Wales bounced back from an unlucky loss against England and subsequent beating by Scotland which had left the natives restless in this rugby-mad country.

Johnny Sexton gave Ireland the lead with an early penalty but the out-half was off the field for a head injury assessment when the much-maligned George North signalled his return to form with a Welsh try shortly after the visitors had lost an attacking lineout after kicking a penalty to the corner.

Ulsterman Paddy Jackson nudged Ireland back in front with a penalty while deputising for Sexton, whose slightly harsh sin-binning in first half injury-time for killing the ball on his own line proved very costly.

Leigh Halfpenny put Wales ahead again going into half-time with the resulting penalty and North had an easy run-in for his second try against a stretched Ireland defence early in the second period.

Sexton reduced the arrears to single score proportions with another penalty late in the third quarter and Ireland thought they had grabbed a potentially match-winning try only for Barnes to penalise Henshaw for joining the maul marginally ahead of ball-carrier Best.

England retained their title in emphatic fashion on Saturday afternoon at Twickenham by crushing Triple Crown hopefuls Scotland 61-21 but Ireland can still deny them the Grand Slam in Dublin and also prevent Eddie Jones' side completing a world record 19 victories on the trot.

“We wanted to win the Championship so everybody's disappointed and the bodies are always sorer when you've been beaten but we have to dust ourselves down and put our best foot forward for the England game to try and finish as high up the table as possible," says skipper Best.

“We came to Cardiff hoping to keep everything alive going into the final weekend so it's frustrating knowing we made too many mistakes to win an away Six Nations match.

“All credit to Wales, they're a quality side, but I think we let them off the hook a bit. To get so many goes in their 22 and not score isn't like us. You couldn't fault our endeavour or the physicality we brought but we maybe lacked clinicality at key moments."

Rory refused to blame Barnes for his decision not to allow the try or Henshaw for not being careful enough entering the maul when he was very visible running in from midfield but beating England would raise Irish spirits at the end of a mixed Six Nations.

The men in green came into the Championship with high hopes after November's historic first ever victory over New Zealand to complete a hat-trick of triumphs against the southern hemisphere big three in 2016.

But Ireland lost their opening game in Scotland and now defeat in Wales after victories over Italy and France mean they're out of the reckoning, but, just as they did with the All Blacks, they can ensure England's winning run is ended at 18 matches.

Unfortunately one man who will play no part in Saturday's Dublin battle is former Royal School Armagh pupil Tommy Bowe who sustained a suspected broken ankle just after coming off the bench in the final few minutes in Cardiff.

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