Half-Maltese winger Rees-Zammit on the mark for Welsh team
Wales beat an Ireland side that played with 14 men for over an hour 21-16 in a gripping Six Nations contest in Cardiff on Sunday.
Irish flanker Peter O’Mahony was shown a straight red by referee Wayne Barnes after he elbowed Tomas Francis in the head.
O’Mahony gains the unwanted tag of being the first Irish player to be sent off in a Six Nations match.
Victory nevertheless will be welcome for Wales coach Wayne Pivac who came into the match under immense pressure following a disappointing first year in charge.
“We just had to win today. It’s key to start with a bang and keep momentum going so we are happy,” Wales prop Wyn Jones told the BBC.
“Sometimes it is tough to play against 14 men because they front up.”
Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton added: “I think a couple of decisions at the end went against us, but Wales are a very good side and we only have ourselves to blame.”
Leigh Halfpenny put the Welsh 3-0 ahead in the fifth minute after O’Mahony was penalised.
Dan Lydiate’s return to Test action for the first time since 2018 lasted barely 12 minutes before the Welsh flanker limped off with a knee injury.
However, it was O’Mahony’s departure that proved pivotal.
Barnes had no option but to brandish the red card at O’Mahony saying: “It is the head Peter”.
O’Mahony scratched his head as he left the pitch, head coach Andy Farrell’s expression hidden by the mask covering due to Covid-19 protocols.
Wales centre Johnny Williams was perhaps fortunate not to receive a card of some colour shortly afterwards when his head connected with ball carrier Garry Ringrose.
42nd try for North
Halfpenny added another penalty to make it 6-0 after Sexton infringed but the Irish gathered themselves and enjoyed a fair amount of possession.
However, being a man down, they needed to seize their opportunities.
They let one go abegging when they lost a line-out metres from the Welsh tryline—moments after key jumper James Ryan had departed groggily for a Head Injury Assessment.
He was not to return.
Farrell had a rare moment to applaud when Sexton landed a penalty just before the half hour mark to make it 6-3.
Sexton levelled the match five minutes from the break.
Astonishingly the Irish were ahead soon afterwards with the opening coming thanks to a massive clearance to touch by James Lowe.
The Welsh lost the lineout and Robbie Henshaw made great ground before offloading to Josh van der Flier.
He was brought down short of the line but managed to get the ball to Tadhg Berine who touched down—Sexton converted for 13-6.
The hosts though got within two points after George North broke through to touch down after a lovely back-hand pass by Josh Navidi for his 42nd try in his 99th Test.
Halfpenny sent his conversion wide to leave the Irish 13-11 up with half an hour remaining.
The Welsh went in front just before the hour mark as young wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who has Maltese origins, did brilliantly to touch down in the corner. Halfpenny converted for 18-13.
The veteran full-back made it 21-13 with 15 minutes remaining leaving Ireland requiring two scores to win.
Sexton missed the chance to put the Irish in great field position when he inexplicably failed to find touch.
The Irish playmaker was left prone on the ground a minute later when his head connected with Justin Tipuric’s knee.
The ever competitive Sexton shook his head in frustration as he went off for an assessment.
His replacement Billy Burns slotted over a penalty to make it 21-16 and set up a nervy last 10 minutes for the hosts.
The Irish kept the pressure on but in time added on, Burns missed a golden opportunity to find touch and have a lineout metres from the hosts’ line.
As he dropped to his knees in despair the Welsh raised their hands in celebration and Pivac puffed out his cheeks with relief.