Six Nations rugby champions Ireland have opened their defence with a pulsating 16-16 draw against Wales.
Ireland raced into a 13-point lead on Sunday thanks to a try from Conor Murray but Wales fought back through a try from Taulupe Faletau to trail by just three points at the break.
“You certainly can’t feel elated. A little bit deflated,” said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
The Ireland boss noted that his team was missing eight usual starters due to injury and suspensions and he admitted to be concerned going into the match.
“I did sense, to be honest, that we were a little bit vulnerable today.”
Two second-half penalties from Rhys Priestland edged Wales in front but a Jonathan Sexton penalty six minutes from time ensured a draw for Ireland, who are looking to become the first team to win three successive Six Nations titles.
Ireland went ahead on four minutes through a Sexton penalty after Wales were adjudged to be offside.
Sexton stretched the lead to six points eight minutes later with another penalty as Ireland took a firm hold on the game.
Jamie Heaslip looked to have scored Ireland’s first try on 25 minutes when he crossed the Welsh line amidst a pile of bodies but it went unrewarded as the video official was unable to see if he had grounded the ball.
The reprieve for Wales was shortlived, however, as Murray jinked over a minute later for the game’s first try with Sexton adding the extras to move Ireland 13-0 in front.
Wales refused to buckle and got their first points on 32 minutes through a Priestland penalty.
The visitors finished the half much the stronger and deservedly crossed the Irish line two minutes before the break when Faletau touched down after the ball popped out of a Welsh scrum.
Priestland converted to reduce the deficit to just three points at halftime.
In an evenly matched second half, Priestland levelled matters on 46 minutes and looked to have secured an opening victory for Warren Gatland’s side with another penalty with eight minutes remaining.
However, there was still time for Sexton to slot over the equalising penalty to ensure a share of the spoils for Ireland.
“You didn’t want the game to be decided on a stupid penalty or something soft. The result was a fair reflection of the game,” Gatland said.
The Six Nations continues next Saturday when France entertain Ireland in Paris and Wales host Scotland in Cardiff.
The second round concludes on Sunday when England play Italy at Twickenham.