WALES once again proved themselves to be men for the big occasion in Cardiff and this time there was no sob story after another Six Nations humdinger at Principality Stadium.

Suffocating Irish pressure at the death put Rob Howley’s men in danger of suffering a repeat of the agonising defeat to England in round two.

However, this time they dug deep with some incredible defence before replacement centre Jamie Roberts sent the home crowd into raptures with a try in the closing stages for a 22-9 victory.

Wales headed into the game with their title hopes gone but there was little doubt they would hit the standards they set against England at Principality Stadium rather than the sluggishness of their loss to Scotland at Murrayfield.

This time it was enough with George North’s try and wonderful defence in the final quarter getting the job done for a deserved victory.

Whether Wales can raise themselves for the big occasion isn’t in doubt, it’s whether they have the ability to go the sort of run that England carry into today’s Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.

A tussle against the Irish under the Friday night lights in Cardiff was always likely to trigger a big performance and they got it from the usual suspects of Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones but also North, who got himself involved off his right wing with the sort of display to make his meek Murrayfield outing all the more mystifying.

It was a wonderful night for Howley, who put his faith in the same 23, and also defence coach Shaun Edwards after his charges smashed into the men in green for a clean sheet.

Now they head into their finale in France without fears of a World Cup group of death and with the need to back up the performance by playing with panache in Paris.

Ireland, meanwhile, no longer have a shot at the title and were left to lament a correct decision by English official Wayne Barnes when denying them a lineout try after centre Robbie Henshaw had inwisely joined the drive illegally.

South Wales Argus:

The Irish made the better start and five minutes of territorial dominance was rewarded with a penalty by Johnny Sexton after a high tackle by scrum-half Rhys Webb.

Wales had their first bout of pressure and after some strong carrying, with George North prominent, and some ferocious tackling their attack was ended by a knock-on by Jonathan Davies in the 22.

The Irish had an escape and it was then the hosts’ turn, a kick-on by Biggar led to powerhouse flanker CJ Stander going on the charge to within five metres.

A penalty was conceded and Ireland opted for the corner only for captain Alun Wyn Jones, after all the debate over his decision to turn down three points at Murrayfield, to steal it.

And they made the most of that escape to take the lead in quite stunning fashion entering the quarter.

Quick lineout ball was followed by centre Scott Williams going up the middle and offloading to Webb, who flung a perfect pass on the move to full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who in turn moved it to North on the right.

The winger had plenty to do but finished with power and aggression for a wonderful fly that highlights why there has been so much frustration over their 2016/17 stodginess.

However, the lead didn’t last long with Halfpenny’s failed conversion followed by Paddy Jackson slotting a penalty for 6-5 before heading back to the sidelines after Sexton passed a head injury assessment.

The rugby was thunderous and Wales were back in front in the 38th minute through the boot of Halfpenny, the three points also seeing Johnny Sexton sin-binned for killing the ball on his line after Jonathan Davies had gone close.

Howley’s men could be pretty pleased with their first half efforts but knew that they had to keep the foot down after only scoring three points in the second half against England and none at Murrayfield.

With that in mind they headed out early and went through some handling drills to switch back on, a policy that paid off in the 45th minute.

They defended solidly before pouncing on a loose Sean O’Brien pass for Webb’s delicate chip to force Murray into conceding a five-metre lineout.

Wales went on the drive before Webb sniped down the right and drew last man Simon Zebo to give North the simplest of scores that Halfpenny improved for 15-6.

Another score would have been key for Howley’s team but instead the Irish, back up to 15, went on the attack in the 22 only to settle for a three-pointer by Sexton after a high tackle by Biggar.

It was 15-9 approaching the hour and Wales were close to stretching clear once more only for their fly-half’s drop goal to smack against the left upright.

It was manic and with legs tiring Howley wisely turned to his bench in a bid to cling on, something they were unable to do against the English.

Wales had a lucky escape when Ireland were pressing from a driving lineout only for centre Robbie Henshaw to come charging in from the side and gift the hosts a penalty for obstruction.

It was a classic example of why backs shouldn’t get involved in the big boys’ stuff and Howley’s men needed to make the most of their good fortune.

They needed to dig deep and centre Jamie Roberts showed why he was brought off the bench with a crunching tackle with five minutes left close to his line that forced a knock-on and then penalty for an escape – Wales were getting nearer to that 80.

It was desperate stuff with lungs burning and plenty of socks around ankles.

But the tired players on the Welsh bench were leaping for joy at the death when Taulupe Faletau charged down Sexton for Roberts to power over.

Sensational game. Wonderful Welsh victory.

Wales: L Halfpenny, G North, J Davies, S Williams (J Roberts 66), L Williams, D Biggar (S Davies 79), R Webb (G Davies 66), R Evans (N Smith 66), K Owens (S Baldwin 71), T Francis (S Lee 69), J Ball (L Charteris 62), AW Jones (captain), S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty (T Faletau 66).

Scorers: tries – G North (2), J Roberts; conversions – L Halfpenny (2); penalty – L Halfpenny

Ireland: R Kearney (T Bowe 79), K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo, J Sexton (P Jackson 18-27, 79), C Murray (K Marmion 45), L McGrath (C Healy 59), R Best (captain, N Scannell 79), T Furlong (J Ryan 79), D Ryan, D Toner (I Henderson 62), CJ Stander (P O’Mahony 62), S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

Scorers: J Sexton (2), P Jackson

Yellow cards: J Sexton

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Argus star man: George North