Five Classics: Wales v Ireland

Ronan O’Gara drop goal 2009
The opening match of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations pits two familiar foes against one another once more, as Wales welcome Ireland on Saturday

The opening match of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations pits two familiar foes against one another once more, as Wales welcome Ireland on Saturday

A rivalry that dates back centuries, these two sides first played each other in January 1882, when Wales emerged from Lansdowne Road with a now unconventional looking 2-0 win.

This time around, of course, Cardiff and the Principality Stadium play host, with Warren Gatland back at the helm and hoping to upset the world number ones.

There has been no shortage of drama and elation down the years, with Championships decided, legacies cemented, and hearts broken on countless occasions.

Here, we pick out five of the best Wales v Ireland match-ups from Guinness Six Nations history.

ROG’s forgotten strike – Wales 24-25 Ireland (2003)

Think of Ronan O’Gara and a famous drop goal in Wales and one immediately springs to mind – more on that later – but the man already had form by the time 2009 rolled around.

A crazy game of rugby played out in a bubbling cauldron of Welsh support saw body blows dealt by both sides in what became a slugfest for the ages.

Scores from Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams and Gareth Thomas, with Keith Gleeson grabbing a pair for Ireland, set up a grandstand finale, made all the more dramatic when Jones slotted a drop goal from distance to give Wales their first taste of the lead since the first half.

But more was to come, as a 26-year-old O’Gara let loose with his own effort, set up out of nothing and from way downtown, he split the posts just 30 seconds later and kept Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes alive as they squeezed a 25-24 triumph.

Jones ends the wait – Wales 32-20 Ireland (2005)

Given their dominance back in the 70s, it would have taken a brave soul to predict that Wales would be made to wait 27 years for another Grand Slam after their 1978 triumph.

But a barren patch, as the side struggled to deal with the loss of several crucial individuals, left Welsh fans morbidly pessimistic by the time round five of the 2005 Championship arrived.

Mike Ruddock’s men had won four from four in swashbuckling style up until that point, brushing aside Scotland, France, Italy and England, but a visit from Ireland awaited them in the final helping of fixtures.

Any nerves, however, were quickly cast off by a first-half blitz that saw Gethin Jenkins’ try help them to a 16-6 lead at the break.

And they created further breathing space when Kevin Morgan crossed to put them 29-6 up, but it was not to be plain sailing in their bid for a return to the top table.

Marcus Horan and Geordan Murphy responded for Ireland, prompting a nervy finish, but Wales had done enough to keep their rivals at bay, and the stadium erupted as the whistle rung round, their team glorious once again.

O’Gara for the Grand Slam – Wales 15-17 Ireland (2009)

Arguably one of the most enduring images from Rugby’s Greatest Championship, Ronan O’Gara’s second appearance on this list, is the kick that he is most well known for.

Heading into the 2009 Championship, Ireland had waited 61 years for a Grand Slam, their last coming back in 1948 – the early days of the Five Nations.

But they went to Cardiff in round five with just a win required to end that agonising wait, and it proved a cagey affair as tries from Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe gave them the lead with time running out.

As fans know, however, history has a strange way of repeating itself when it comes to Rugby’s Greatest Championship, and it was poor Stephen Jones who once again thought that his drop goal had handed Wales victory.

Up stepped O’Gara, however, sound-tracked by the immortal words of commentator Ryle Nugent: “Drop at goal; Grand Slam at stake.”

And, with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, the fly-half once again delivered, not only on the kick, but on an historic Championship.

Glory in defeat – Wales 22-30 Ireland (2013) & Wales 23-16 Ireland (2015)

The 2013 and 2015 Championships provided another odd quirk in the Championship as each side claimed a title while in the process losing to the other.

In 2013 it was the turn of Wales, who lifted the trophy for the second time in as many years, but they got their defence started in the worst possible fashion as Ireland ran out 30-22 victors in Cardiff, thanks to 15 points from Johnny Sexton.

A perfect set of scores from their next four fixtures, however, saw them toasting another Championship as they edged out England for glory.

And it was a feat repeated two years later, this time Ireland suffering 23-16 defeat to their rivals before dusting themselves off again to beat Scotland the following week and edge out England for glory.

Gatland’s record-breaking Guinness Six Nations farewell – Wales 25-7 Ireland (2019)

Yet another title-decider came in 2019 with both Gatland and Joe Schmidt waving goodbye to rugby’s greatest Championship – at least temporarily – having already announced their resignations following the 2019 World Cup.

What transpired was arguably Gatland’s greatest achievement in his first spell, as the Welsh recorded their biggest win since 1976 over their opponents, the previous year’s Grand Slam champions no less.

Player of the Match Gareth Anscombe was perfect from the tee to slot six penalties and a conversion for Hadleigh Parkes’ opening try after just 70 seconds.

Parkes’ try-saving tackle on Jacob Stockdale minutes later typified a supremely resolute defence which was not breached until Jordan Lamour ran in a consolation in the last play of the match.

The result meant a fourth Grand Slam in the Six Nations era for Wales, a record matched by France in 2022.

Meanwhile for Gatland it was a history-making third… and counting.