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bad start Andy Farrell's reaction as Ireland start their Six Nations campaign with a defeat in Wales

Wales 21 Ireland 16

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Tadhg Beirne of Ireland is tackled by Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens of Wales

Tadhg Beirne of Ireland is tackled by Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens of Wales

Tadhg Beirne of Ireland is tackled by Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens of Wales

Ireland coach Andy Farrell sat shell-shocked, like a man who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

He had seen his Irish rugby team fight superbly with 14 men. They won all the statistics that tell you who wins the match, possession, carries, yards made, tackles made, turnovers. But the scoreline was 21-16 to Wales.

In the bowels of the Principality Stadium he then had to face up to what had cost his team the match. To Peter O’Mahony’s early sending off, to losing James Ryan to an injury with only a quarter of the game gone, and to Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls failing to find vital kicks to touch and on Sexton and, critically Billy Burns, failing to find touch with penalties.

“First off, well done Wales,” he said with dignity. “They played well. they took their chances.

“We'll assess Johnny and James, they both came off with head knocks so we'll assess how they go in the coming days, said the Irish coach.

"It was a casualty ward for us at times, people going down with cramp etc. people having all sorts of different knocks and issues.”

"It was such an effort from all the individuals that are involved. There were knocks all over the place. The bench was emptied pretty early, people had to dig in deep. We certainly had an opportunity to win it. I suppose we'll look at a few moments within the game that we'll kick ourselves about.

"I haven't had a chance to talk to Billy Burns yet, but I will do. I shook his hand after the match, but I will speak to him, obviously. It's not the reason we lost the game. We have all missed touch before.

“I suppose he will be gutted, obviously, because of the magnitude of the last minute and whether we've got a chance to win the game at the death there, but he'll learn from this."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Sexton said: “I'm okay now, obviously got a bang on the head but I feel okay now, there’s a bit of a bump on the side of the temple. I should be okay, hopefully.

“I’ll do all the, I’m well used to it at this stage, the return to play protocols, and hopefully I’ll be okay for training next week. I haven’t done [a HIA] yet. I’ll do one later and I’ll do one tomorrow.“

For Welsh coach Wayne Pivac, it was like winning a dozen ‘Get out of Jail’ cards in a Christmas Monopoly-fest. “We did some things well. The Scrum went well, but the lineout needs tidying up. Discipline is what nearly cost us this one. We need to have a look at that part of the game.”

Pivac also referenced Gareth Davies almost disastrous decision to kick the ball away in the 79th minute. “Players had called it themselves at the time, so they knew what they needed to do. Unfortunately they weren’t all on the same page so it meant more defending. We won the game, that is what is important.”O'Mahony was sent off after just 13 minutes in Ireland's Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff.

Farrell's men were left with a mountain to climb when the experienced flanker charged into Wales' Tomas Francis with his shoulder. There were no complaints from O'Mahony when referee Wayne Barnes brandished the red card after O'Mahony's shoulder made contact with Francis' face.

Despite a strong closing 20 minutes in the first half, the challenge proved too much for Ireland.

Wales welcomed Ireland to Cardiff in the Guinness Six Nations bidding to overcome their worst performance in the tournament in 13 years.

The Welsh entered 2020 as Grand Slam champions but finished fifth after losing four matches during a miserable start to the tenure of head coach Wayne Pivac.

Ireland, who twice comfortably beat their opponents in Dublin last year, travelled to the Principality Stadium having yet to record an away victory since the appointment of Andy Farrell.

Defeat to France in Paris ended Irish title hopes last year, while they also lost to defending champions England at Twickenham.

Pivac recalled flanker Dan Lydiate for his first cap since victory over Australia in November 2018, with the vastly-experienced Ken Owens returning at hooker.

Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny slotted a fifth-minute penalty in front of the posts to put the hosts into a 3-0 lead.

With Liam Williams and Josh Adams suspended, Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit will make a Six Nations debut, as will centre Johnny Williams.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will collect a 96th cap after recovering from a hamstring problem to take part in a 12th Six Nations campaign.

Flanker Josh Van Der Flier replaced the injured Caelan Doris in a reshuffled Irish back row, while New Zealand-born wing James Lowe was recalled following a groin issue for his maiden appearance in the competition.

Lydiate’s first international appearance in more then two years ended prematurely after he was forced off by a knee injury.

The 33-year-old went down as he prepared to challenge Keith Earls for the loose ball and, despite attempting to continue, had to replaced by Josh Navidi.

Ireland’s task became considerably harder in the 14th minute when Peter O’Mahony was dismissed for a high challenge on Tomas Francis.

Flanker O’Mahony powered in and caught Francis in the head with an elbow, prompting referee Wayne Barnes to consult the television match official before producing a red card.

Minutes later, Halfpenny added another straightforward penalty to double Wales’ lead to 6-0.

Undeterred by losing a man, Ireland responded with a prolonged period of pressure, albeit without being able to find a way through a stubborn Welsh defence.

Both teams were then forced into further reshuffles as Wales centre Williams and Ireland lock James Ryan went off for head injury assessments.

Ireland halved their deficit in the 29th minute after fly-half Sexton successfully converted a 35-metre penalty to make it 6-3.

Ireland continued to be the dominant attacking force and levelled the scores at 6-6 five minutes before the break courtesy of another Sexton penalty.

Farrell’s men remained on the front foot and deservedly went into half-time 13-6 ahead courtesy of a converted try from Tadhg Beirne.

Robbie Henshaw broke the Welsh line with a powerful surge and, after Van Der Flier was held up on the line, lock Beirne was on hand to power over, with Sexton adding the extras.

Wales seized on a string of mistakes from the visitors to cut the deficit early in the second half.

Sloppy play caused Ireland to concede possession, allowing George North to burst past Iain Henderson and Lowe to touch down wide on the right.

Halfpenny was unable to add the conversion, leaving Pivac’s men 13-11 behind.

Wales had pinned back their opponents since the restart and reclaimed the lead thanks to a second try of the afternoon, scored by Rees-Zammit.

The wing produced a diving finish in the right corner and Halfpenny this time made no mistake with the kick to put his side 18-13 in front.

Another penalty from Halfpenny gave Wales breathing space at 21-13 with 14 minutes remaining.

Ireland were deprived of skipper Sexton for the final 10 minutes of the game after he was forced off for a head injury assessment.

The 35-year-old was visibly frustrated as he trudged from the field having been caught in the head by the knee of Justin Tipuric.

Ireland set up an intriguing finale courtesy of a Billy Burns penalty, leaving the score 21-16 with eight minutes remaining.

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