Rugby Union: Wales hold off Ireland to blow Six Nations wide open

CARDIFF (REUTERS) - Resilient Wales withstood a second-half battering to blow the Six Nations wide open and end holders Ireland's grand slam hopes with a 23-16 victory on Saturday.

After an opening home defeat by England, Wales have hit back with three successive wins and by defeating previously undefeated Ireland they have a shot at the title heading into the final round next week.

Despite losing both props to injury in the first half, Wales wobbled but did not wilt in the face of fierce Irish pressure and even a late penalty try which set up a grandstand finale proved insufficient.

"An absolutely unbelievable effort," Sam Warburton, captaining Wales for a record 34th time, told the BBC.

"I couldn't have asked for any more. They just kept coming and coming at us. We had to keep our discipline."

A measure of Welsh resistance came in the match stats. Wales made 289 tackles, with Luke Charteris an eye-popping 37, compared to just 104 by Ireland.

Joe Schmidt's side enjoyed 64 percent possession and made 461 metres against 195 by Wales, who forced a key seven turnovers.

Ireland's first loss for over a year ended a run of 10 successive wins and they will reflect on a hesitant start.

Leigh Halfpenny took full advantage of early Irish indiscretions with four penalties inside 13 minutes.

His boot ultimately proved the difference on the scoreboard but it was heroic defence in the second half that carried the Welsh dragons home as Ireland charged at them time and time again.

Ireland, with flyhalf Johnny Sexton a peripheral figure in the opening 40, fluffing one penalty and on another occasion kicking straight into touch to ironic cheers, laid siege to the Welsh line in the opening 20 minutes after the break.

Recycling the ball with precision and going through phase after phase, the Irish seemed set to break through but were thwarted every time they came near the line, Tommy Bowe denied just inches from a score.

Wales looked to have repelled all Ireland could throw at them when replacement centre Scott Williams burst through for the opening try to put Wales 11 points clear with 19 minutes left.

But Ireland, with captain Paul O'Connell winning his 100th test cap, hit back with a converted penalty try before Halfpenny's fifth penalty took Wales seven clear and they clung on grimly at the end.

The destiny of the title could now come down to points difference with Ireland and Wales having three wins from four games. England, who host Scotland later at Twickenham, could also move to six points with a victory.