Wales broke Irish hearts after booking their place in the RWC semi-finals thanks to a 22-10 victory in Wellington on Saturday.
Wales broke Irish hearts after booking their place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals thanks to a 22-10 victory in Wellington on Saturday.
In what was a breathless encounter in the New Zealand capital, the Welsh outscored Ireland by three tries to one to seal a semi-final spot on rugby's biggest stage for the first time since 1987.
It was tough to predict a winner before the start of this quarter-final, but it was clear from the kick-off which team would be marching on to Auckland and who would be heading home in arguably the game of the tournament.
It was simple: Wales took their chances, Ireland did not.
Outstanding defence from the Welsh also paved the way to victory with Luke Charteris and talismanic Sam Warburton immense in the tackle – frustrating the Irish as a solid red wall kept them out.
Wales roared out of the starting blocks and made the perfect start possible after wing Shane Williams went over for the game's opening try in the corner with barely two minutes up on the clock.
It was a team effort, with the Welsh counter-attacking from a turnover. The ball was sent high by pivot Rhys Priestland and then taken and carried strongly by Jamie Roberts, who fended off Donncha O'Callaghan – from there, Ireland were always on the backfoot.
A sea of red jerseys flooded Ireland's tryline, before the pigskin was sent through the hands out to left wing Williams waiting on the right and he finished off. The TMO was called in to confirm, but there was never any doubt. The swirling wind couldn't prevent Priestland from slotting over the touchline conversion to hand his team a 7-0 lead after three minutes played.
The shell-shocked Irish composed themselves and made their way towards Wales' dangerzone, where they turned down three penalty attempts at goal only for the Welsh to thwart every attack thrown at them from Ireland's catch and drive at the line-out.
Ireland finally gave in to three points from bang in front and Ronan O'Gara put his team on the board in the 24th minute. However, Wales stretched their lead back to seven points thanks to a monster penalty effort from full-back Leigh Halfpenny on halfway.
Ireland, playing with more possession and territory, failed to convert pressure into points and trailed their Celtic rivals 3-10 at half-time.
The start to the second half proved to be more pleasant than the first for Ireland, who gave Wales a taste of their own medicine by making the ideal start by crossing the whitewash early on.
At first it seemed that Ireland had made a mess of it as Tommy Bowe's pass to Keith Earls hit the deck and rolled towards the Irishman. But Earls did well to pick up and turn on the gas with little space to work with , before sliding over in the corner. Again, the TMO was brought into play, and again he gave the green light.
O'Gara showed he was just as able to nail conversions from the sideline and punched the air as the ball sailed between the uprights to level the scores. 10-10!
But Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips restored Wales' lead with a clever dart down the blindside from a ruck 15 metres out. The number nine fended off Gordon D'Arcy and launched himself spectacularly for the line, dotting down one handed as Bowe came in with the tackle.
Priestland's conversion drifted wide and the fly-half, whose form has seen him keep Stephen Jones and James Hook out of the team, then saw a 58th minute penalty come back off the upright.
Ireland were then caught napping out wide and a quick ball from Phillips found Priestland, who offloaded to centre Jonathan Davies. The centre split through Cian Healy and Earls, before shaking off Eoin Reddan's weak tackle for a fine individual try.
Priestland hit the conversion to make it 22-10 with 15 minutes to play.
The Irish threw everything but the kitchen sink at Wales in the last quarter of the match, but poor decisions – which summed up their match – either saw penalties given away, or balls being spilled thanks to some steely defence and superiority at the breakdown from the Welsh.
Wales, knocked out of the last World Cup four years ago at the group stage, now await the winner between England and France at Eden Park.
Man of the match: Wales captain Sam Warburton excelled in the loose and centre Jamie Roberts stood out as a midfield battering ram, but we felt Leigh Halfpenny had a blinder at full-back for the Welsh. Cool, calm and collected – Halfpenny was simply sublime.
Moment of the match: Shane Williams' opening try set the scene for what was to come, but Jonathan Davies put the icing on the cake at the Cake Tin with his match-winning score.
Villain of the match: The wind! It was nasty.
Tries: S Williams, Phillips, Davies
Cons: Priestland 2
Ireland: 15 Robert Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Andrew Trimble.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Paul James, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Lloyd Williams, 21 James Hook, 22 Scott Williams.
Referee: Craig Joubert