The Ireland Under-20s were made to pay for a below-par performance as Wales claimed a deserved 19-12 win in the U-20 RBS 6 Nations tonight.
A sparkling team try on the stroke of half-time, finished off by centre Owen Watkin, moved the Welsh 16-6 clear in Colwyn Bay.
The hosts' scrum dominance gave them the ideal platform and although out-half Ross Byrne's reliable boot (12 points) kept Ireland in contention and they coped well during Jeremy Loughman's sin-binning, Nigel Carolan's youngsters failed to match the levels they produced in the previous three rounds.
There were some positives to take forward to Scotland next week, though, with winger Stephen Fitzgerald lively again in both defence and attack and the bench had a solid impact, particularly up front, in the closing stages.
The Ireland U-20s were looking to bounce back from their Donnybrook defeat to England last time out. However, Ireland have not won on Welsh soil at this age-grade since 2009 and it was Wales who showed the greater intent from the off.
They quickly got Tom Williams and Joe Gage into attacking positions out wide on the left before out-half Jarrod Evans' fourth-minute penalty crept inside the right hand post for the opening score.
Ireland then enjoyed a good spell of possession, building momentum just inside halfway and with Welsh hooker Ryan Ellias ruled offside a long range penalty saw Byrne bring his side level by the 11th minute.
Loughman and Billy Dardis combined to halt a dangerous Welsh counter attack sparked by a sidestepping run from Watkin, however the errors continued with a Welsh offside and an overthrown Irish lineout.
A couple of penalties invited the young Dragons forward and having turned down a kickable shot at the posts, they emerged try-less from a five-metre maul thanks to good defensive work from Zack McCall.
Wales retook the lead courtesy of a scrum penalty in the 25th minute, knocked over by Evans from the right, and a harsh ruck decision against hooker McCall robbed Ireland of decent field position after a fine touchfinder from Byrne.
Prop Loughman just had a foot in touch as he broke over halfway and linked inside with flanker Nick Timoney, who was making his first start at this level. But Loughman's front row colleague, the industrious McCall, got over a ruck ball to force a penalty which Byrne confidently converted from distance for 6-6.
Frustratingly for the Irish fans present, Wales swiftly edged back in front as they drove forward in a scrum and Evans rewarded his pack with a third successful penalty.
And the hosts struck for a timely try just moments later, Ireland captain Nick McCarthy lacking support as he was turned over by his Welsh counterpart Rory Thornton. Jon Fox, Gage and Adams linked on a brilliant blindside break, setting up Watkin for a simple finish on the right. Wales' luck was in as Evans' conversion effort went over off the post.
Ireland missed an opportunity to attack from deep on the resumption, Fitzgerald coming in off his wing for a good tackle and he was inches away from collecting Sam Arnold's pass from the quick turnover.
Fitzgerald then did well to stop a potential Welsh overlap, but lineout and scrum issues dogged Ireland's attempts to build pressure. The home side, showing more accuracy and hunger, added to their lead through Evans' boot in the 52nd minute.
Byrne reduced the arrears back to 10 points and Josh Murphy, playing in the second row, breathed a sigh of relief when Evans sent a penalty narrowly wide after the UCD forward was pinged for not rolling away.
Ireland emerged from an error-strewn spell and began to find their rhythm with wingers Ciaran Gaffney and Fitzgerald coming more into it. Influential Welsh flanker Ollie Griffiths infringed, allowing Byrne to land a tough left-sided kick and put the visitors back within a converted score.
Nevertheless, Wales' powerful scrum kept them on track and with Loughman seeing yellow for another set piece offence, it took some gutsy Irish defence – five metres out – to keep a maul drive at bay.
Front row replacements Andrew Porter and Conan O'Donnell both made immediate impacts, winning a relieving scrum penalty for 14-man Ireland. The latter also produced a midfield steal some minutes later and a subsequent kick through had Fitzgerald within metres of the Welsh whitewash where he was foiled by a tackle from man-of-the-match Griffiths.
Credit to the home side, their defence was rock solid late on as they continued to disrupt Irish rucks, making for scrappy possession for Carolan's charges, and Wales' victory was well-merited in the end.
TIME LINE: 4 minutes – Wales penalty: Jarrod Evans – 3-0; 11 mins – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 3-3; 25 mins – Wales penalty: Jarrod Evans – 6-3; 35 mins – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 6-6; 38 mins – Wales penalty: Jarrod Evans – 9-6; 40 mins – Wales try: Owen Watkin – 14-6; conversion: Jarrod Evans – 16-6; Half-time – Wales 16 Ireland 6; 52 mins – Wales penalty: Jarrod Evans – 19-6; 55 mins – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 19-9; 57 mins – Wales penalty: missed by Jarrod Evans – 19-9; 61 mins – Ireland penalty: Ross Byrne – 19-12; 65 mins – Ireland yellow card: Jeremy Loughman; Full-time – Wales 19 Ireland 12
Referee: Elia Rizzo (Italy)