George North's two wondrous tries handed Wales a deserved and hard-fought victory over Ireland on Friday evening (10 March). Rob Howley's men may have inadvertently almost handed England the trophy but can be happy with their response after succumbing to the powers of Scotland in their previous Six Nations clash.
Johnny Sexton gave Ireland a slender early lead with a penalty but North handed the hosts the advantage on 23 minutes when he capitalised on the good work of Leigh Halfpenny and Scott Williams to finish into the corner. Halfpenny, instrumental in the build-up to the try, managed to shank his conversion.
Wales' lead didn't last long when Paddy Jackson converted a penalty with his 14th successful kick in a row. Halfpenny then made up for his error with the conversion by making no mistake with a penalty to give his country an 8-6 lead just before the interval at the Principality.
North then made the most of an intelligent Rhys Webb pass to slide over for his Wales' second try of the evening on 46 minutes, and Halfpenny made sure there was no repeat of his mishap with the first conversion. Sexton added a penalty to make the score 15-9 and set up an interesting last 20 minutes, but the Welsh stood firm.
Captain Sam Warburton produced an excellent display to quell Ireland's attacking pressure and ensured that the marauding CJ Stander was ineffective throughout. Ireland huffed and puffed but lacked real ingenuity and discipline when in possession, and their troubles in the Welsh capital were compounded in the dying embers of the clash when Sexton's attempted chip was charged down by Taulupe Faletau. The ball sat up kindly for Jamie Roberts, who added gloss to the scoreline for Howley's side by crashing over the line.
England's task is rather simple now: if they emerge victorious against Scotland, they win the title. But Wales, whose chances of silverware are slim at best, can be happy with their much-improved display against an Irish side who will need a shot in the arm ahead of their clash with Eddie Jones' men next weekend.