Wales soaked up a mountain of pressure, but landed the killer blows when it counted to move into the Rugby World Cup semifinals with a 22-10 win over Celtic neighbours Ireland in Wellington on Saturday.
Quarterfinals: all-day special
Today's match report-writer, Brenden Nel, joined us for a Q&A.
With a performance built solidly on their stingy defence the Welsh took everything the Irish could throw at them for 60 minutes, and then returned with two massive blows to ensure they were in a semifinal for the first time since 1987.
But the Irish have only themselves to blame as tactically they were naïve, and although they managed to get enough ball to cause massive problems on attack, their finishing was poor and options -- especially late in the second half -- even worse.
The result also puts the Springboks' narrow win over the Welsh into perspective in the first week of the tournament, considering that Wales were good value and came through the Pool of Death with good wins over Samoa and Fiji in the process.
As Tom Jones’s Delilah rang through the stadium after the game, the Irish will be wondering how they didn’t take three kickable penalties in the first half, which would have had them lead at halftime and be in a good place to fight for the result in the second.
Instead it was Wales who had used Jamie Roberts to snatch the ball out of the air, they punched upfield and used their numbers to swamp the Irish defence and send Shane Williams over for the first score.
But Ireland stormed back and used their lineout drive to good effect, milking three penalties that could well have been turned into points. They opted for lineouts, and were stopped time and again by the stern Welsh defence.
That defence was the second stringiest behind the Springboks in the entire Pool phases, and it showed why as they frustrated the Irish again and again during the game.
Eventually Ronan O’Gara took the fourth penalty and put them on the board, but it wasn’t long before Rhys Priestland kicked a 50-metre bomb to make it 10-3 at the break.
Ireland knew they should have been ahead for all the pressure they had created, and simply didn’t make the same mistake early in the second as they created enough space out wide for Keith Earls to ghost in the corner, despite a desperate dive tackle from Mike Phillips that had to be confirmed by Italian television match official Giulio de Santis.
It was a blow that brought the Welsh to life. Like the prize fighter they were stunned, reeling a bit and caught off guard. Somewhere inside them something snapped, as the try only spurred them into action.
They seemed calmer under the pressure, more composed through the moments, and used the inches of space that came their way. We always hear how using the few opportunities can make a massive difference in a game, but here was living proof that the theory is true.
First Phillips spotted a massive gap on the blindside, something that never should have been allowed to happen, and dived in to separate the teams once again. Then with 15 minutes to go the Irish defence was caught again, and Wales’ quick thinking in shifting their attack sealed the game.
It was left to Jonathan Davies to run at prop Cian Healy and Earls, and he took on the bigger of the two and drifted through without being touched. Game over, Wales had won.
Ireland were desperate in their attack, and while they had an amazing tournament before the wild, wet night in Wellington, they simply couldn’t breach the Welsh defence. The stats will tell you that Wales soaked up the pressure and made an incredible 141 tackles, missing just 11. Only three handling errors on a wet night also tell a story.
It’s a story of two neighbours who threw everything at each other, but one -- coached by a New Zealander -- was able to land the bigger blows.
Wales - Tries: Shane Williams, Mike Phillips, Jonathan Davies. Conversions: Rhys Priestland (2). Penalty: Leigh Halfpenny.
Ireland - Try: Keath Earls. Conversion: Ronan O Gara. Penalty: O Gara.