CJ Stander proved his Test credentials as Ireland and Wales drew 16-16 in Dublin on Sunday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The former SA U20 captain, who was told he was too small to play Test rugby while at the Bulls, more than justified his selection for his adopted nation. The 25-year-old was colossal with ball in hand, making 22 carries, and it was no surprise when he was named Man of the Match.
Stander’s performance was the highlight of an entertaining fixture that could have gone either way.
Ireland led 13-0 after half an hour, but Wales dominated the next 10 minutes to score 10 points. The second half was a battle of the boot between Johnny Sexton and Rhys Priestland, with both teams eventually having to settle for two log points at the final whistle.
The hosts made an excellent start to the match, taking the ball through 17 phases before Wales went offside and Sexton slotted the penalty.
The visitors then strung together 17 phases themselves, and looked certain to score a try, only to concede a turnover that allowed Ireland to relieve the pressure and launch another sustained attack that resulted in a second penalty for Sexton.
Wales suffered a big blow when Dan Biggar injured his ankle while contesting a high ball. The flyhalf missed his first penalty attempt at goal, and was substituted soon after by Priestland.
Stander then came close to scoring when he was held up over the line after a pick-and-go. Ireland dominated the resultant 5m scrum, with Conor Murray darting over a few phases later for a converted try that made it 13-0.
Wales finally got on the board when a dangerous tackle by Keith Earls on Liam Williams in the air allowed Priestland to kick a penalty goal. Earls was fortunate not to receive a yellow card as he failed to bring Williams safely to ground. Soon after, Williams was unable to collect a cross-kick from Priestland that landed in the in-goal area.
The visitors won three scrum penalties in the first 35 minutes and on the third occasion opted to scrum again, 5m out from the Irish tryline, instead of going for goal. And their bold approach paid off when the ball popped out the scrum and was picked up by No 8 Toby Faletau, whose converted try narrowed the gap to three.
Priestland levelled the scores early in the second half with his second penalty, but it was Ireland who went on to dominate territory and possession for the next 15 minutes. They weren’t able to convert that pressure into points, though, with three handling errors ending promising attacks.
The to-and-fro nature of the game continued with Wales then taking the ball through 27 phases. Ireland defended heroically before going off their feet at a ruck, which allowed Priestland to kick the visitors into a 16-13 lead with eight minutes remaining.
However, Wales immediately gave away a penalty for not retreating from a box kick and Sexton held his nerves to level the scores.
Priestland’s attempted drop goal with three minutes to go went wide, thanks to the pressure put on him by Murray. And while both teams tried to keep the ball alive during the last play of the game, it eventually went into touch in the 83rd minute.
Ireland – Try: Conor Murray. Conversion: Johnny Sexton. Penalties: Sexton (3).
Wales – Try: Toby Faletau. Conversion: Rhys Priestland. Penalties: Priestland (3).
Ireland – 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Nathan White, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jerry Cronin, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Dave Kearney.
Wales – 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Alex Cuthbert.