Wales became the first country to book a semi-final spot with an outstanding display of rugby in Wellington tonight, denying the golden generation of Irish rugby a final shot at glory on the world stage by a score-line of 22-10. The Irish dominated large portions of the game, including almost the entire first half, but struggled against a dominant Welsh defence; Wales had no such problems, scoring three while defending impressively throughout to outline their rapidly growing credentials as genuine contenders for a berth in the final.
Wales began with a roar, attacking from deep to put seven points past a shell-shocked Irish outfit in just the third minute courtesy of a tidy Shane Williams finish. The Irish rallied as the game was immediately thrown open; camping on the Welsh line while Brian O’Driscoll denied Ronan O’Gara three shots at goal early on in search of an elusive equalising try. The Welsh though desperately held firm as wave after wave of green-clad warriors were halted, sometimes just inches from the line, by the faultless execution of Warren Gatland’s trademark rush defence. O’Gara was finally given a shot at goal in the 24th, testament to the impregnable nature of the defence in front of them, before Leigh Halfpenny restored the lead to seven with an impressive kick into a heavy Wellington wind. Ireland continued to attack throughout the half but failed to break a rushing Welsh defence despite absolute domination of both territory and possession in a thrilling half of rugby.
The Welsh changed tactic early in the second half, looking to use the famous Wellington wind through the boot of Rhys Priestland. Ireland did not, and continued to run hard at Wales before Keith Earls finally broke the line in the very corner, allowing O’Gara even to level the scores with a pinpoint kick. This awoke the Welsh from their attacking slumber, as Ireland defended against the form backline of the competition for the first extended period of the game. Wales looked far more incisive with ball in hand and gave the Irish a lesson in clinical finishing through a flying Mike Phillips; the scrumhalf nipping blind for yet another try in the corner as Wales began to take control of the game. Priestland trapped his opponents deep in their own half with a series of raking kicks as the Irish visibly tired; O’Driscoll’s men could not then replicate the defensive brilliance of their neighbours as Jonathon Davies ghosted through midfield to give his team a 12 point buffer leading into the final stages of the match. Ireland attacked valiantly but could not reach the standards of the youthful Welsh in either attack or defence as Wales sealed their second ever semi-final with an absolutely clinical all-round display.