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Wales beats Ireland 22-10 to reach RWC semifinals

Updated: October 08, 2011, 03:22


WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) Wales reached the Rugby World Cup semifinals for the first time in 24 years on Saturday with a clinical 22-10 win over Six Nations rival Ireland.

Veteran winger Shane Williams opened the scoring for Wales with a try in the right corner after just three minutes.

Ireland recovered to 10-10 within five minutes of the restart through Keith Earls's converted try, but scrumhalf Mike Phillips and center Jonathan Davies touched down to send their team through to face England or France in their first semifinal since the inaugural tournament in 1987.

The Welsh players simply took their chances while the Irish spurned theirs, kicking away possession and turning down early shots at goal in the wild Wellington wind.

"A massive defensive effort,'' Wales captain Sam Warburton said. "We started the game perfectly today, just what we wanted. It's a lot easier to stay ahead of a game rather than chase it.''

Wales led for all but eight of 80 minutes and never trailed, but despite a formidable defense and ruthless finishing, could easily have been behind at halftime.

With the wind behind them, the Irish spurned three first-half shots at goal to kick for position, wasted two attacking positions through not releasing and flyhalf Ronan O'Gara twice punted over the dead ball line to give Wales a scrum.

"We got outplayed in the second half, they scored two good tries. They took their scores very well,'' Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said. "We're the ones left disappointed; they're the ones that have something to look forward to next week.''

Having survived those reprieves, Wales could have won by an even bigger score had Rhys Priestland not twice hit the post with penalty attempts.

But Priestland still finished with two conversions and fullback Leigh Halfpenny contributed the other points with a huge penalty into the wind from halfway.

Ireland looked to have started in the ascendancy - O'Gara putting in a huge hit on Halfpenny - but Wales got hold of the ball after a quick turnover by either side and calmly recycled through 13 phases to push upfield.

The Welsh were held up in front of the posts but spread the ball out to the right, where Williams went over for his ninth career World Cup try and 56th overall.

Williams, who is set to retire after the tournament, looked to be a sure recipient of the man-of-the-match award when he then saved a try. But although he held up Sean O'Brien to stop the flanker grounding for a score that would almost certainly have pulled Ireland level, Phillips took the title for an almost faultless performance that included the crucial second try.

Ireland finally got on the board when O'Gara kicked a penalty in front of the posts with 23 minutes gone, but Halfpenny's low, hard shot from halfway restored Wales' seven-point advantage.

The result could have gone either way when Earls slid over and O'Gara converted to make it 10-10, but parity lasted just five minutes.

Phillips picked the ball up off the floor and sprinted down the blind, diving full stretch to ground one-handed in the corner under pressure from Gordon D'Arcy and Tommy Bowe for 15-10.

"It's an historic win for Wales today. the boys have been outstanding.'' Phillips said. "We were superb today. we've worked our socks off for this - we deserve the win.''

Davies then scored his third tournament try, seemingly erring when he ignored an overlap on the 22 before darting between Earls and prop Cian Healy to cut in and score.

Ireland has never advanced beyond the World Cup quarterfinals, but went in against the younger Wales team full of confidence after a bruising 15-6 upset win over two-time champion Australia and a comprehensive victory over Six Nations rival Italy to top Pool C.

"It was a great opportunity for us winning the group,'' said O'Driscoll, who was bitterly disappointed to finish his fourth World Cup campaign in the quarters. But Wales "showed they are a worthy semifinalists, good luck to them.''

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