The most experienced Wales side in Test rugby history needed all of it as they overcame a 14-man Ireland 21-16 in a tense Six Nations match in an empty Principality Stadium.
After their horror year in 2020, with three wins in ten Tests, the Welsh gave second-year coach Wayne Pivac his first notable win on Sunday, and their best since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Under pressure for a victory, Pivac fielded a side with a combined 874 caps. Nine players had more than 50 each. They just had enough to hold off an Ireland that was favoured going in.
Wales’ concerns were eased somewhat when Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony was sent off in the 14th minute.
He led with his shoulder into the exposed head of Wales prop Tomas Francis, who was stuck in a ruck. It was an easy decision for referee Wayne Barnes.
Wales deservedly led 3-0 then and was expected to kick on. But losing a man sharpened Ireland’s focus and they went into halftime 13-6 ahead.
However the effort tired the Irish and Wales got tries from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit to go 18-13 ahead into the last quarter.
A harsh penalty call against Ireland in front of its posts set up Leigh Halfpenny for a third penalty goal kick, and Wales had a lead with 14 minutes to go.
Ireland lost captain Jonathan Sexton after his head was accidentally hit by Justin Tipuric’s knee, and they could add only a penalty by replacement flyhalf Billy Burns.
Burns had a chance to set up an attacking lineout in injury time but booted the ball out the back of the in-goal.
The result was a first Ireland loss to Wales in five Tests, and second-year coach Andy Farrell still without a win away from home.
On Saturday on the opening day of the Six Nations, Scotland beat England in a dominant performance and France crushed a young Italian team 50-10.