The Wales Amateur Rugby League side took a giant stride in defending their British title by securing a hard fought win over a physical Irish side in Dublin on Saturday evening.
Ireland, who have never won the tournament but recorded a narrow victory over Wales the last time the nations met on their home soil in 2003, got off to a great start with a fifteenth minute try from Sharp.
But Wales soon equalised when Bridgend Blue Bulls' full back Neil Dixon finished off a fine handling movement created by Aberavon's Darran Ryan. Dixon thought he had a second try just before the break only to see it ruled out controversially for crossing.
Locked at 6-6 at the break, the second half continued as an intense physical battle between two very powerful sets of forwards. But it was Welsh handling skill which was once more to prove instrumental in breaking the deadlock, with Ryan again involved in setting up a try, this time for Newport Titans' Mark Wheeler, the eventual man-of-the-match. But after Jim Barnes, a great find for the Welsh from the Royal Navy, was lost temporarily to the sinbin, Ireland piled on the pressure and were rewarded with an unconverted try on a blindside run from McAnn on 60 minutes.
Now it was the Irish who seemed to be in the ascendancy, but both a drop goal attempt and a kickable penalty were wasted. The return of Barnes, along with strong captaincy from Bridgend's Nathan Strong ensured that Wales were able to repel all further attacks and a breakaway try from Torfaen's Darren Smith ten minutes from time put the Welshmen firmly back in control at 18-10.
So once again the Wales v England fixture, which takes place at Bridgend's Brewery Field in September, will decide the Amateur Four Nations Championship. Wales Rugby League's unbroken run of three consecutive victories are a testament to the strength of the Welsh Conference which has produced three British finalists - Bridgend, Cardiff Demons and Torfaen Tigers, since its inception in 2003.
Wales coach Kevin Weaver described the match as 'a real bone-crunching encounter'.'I take my hat off to the Welsh players, they were up against some big powerful guys from Ireland but they met fire with fire. To come away from Dublin with a victory is possibly my finest moment in Rugby League.'
Wales: 1 - Neil Dixon (Bridgend BB), 2 - Grant Epton (Bridgend BB), 3 - Jim Barnes (Royal Navy), 4 - Earl Palmer (Newport T), 5 - Darren Smith (Torfaen T), 6 - Owen Jones (Newport T), 7 - Gareth Jones (Cardiff D), 8 - Nathan Strong (Bridgend BB, Captain), 9 - Lloyd O'Connor(Bridgend BB), 10 - Steve Mayley (Torfaen T), 11 Mark Wheeler (Newport T), 12 Adam Suiter (Aberavon FI), 13 Darran Ryan (Aberavon FI). Substitutes: 14 Jason Hill (Torfaen T), 15 John Purnell (Bridgend BB), 16 Carle Ellis (Bridgend BB), 17 Sean O'Brien (Aberavon FI).
Kickoff 5.30pm, Saturday 16th July, Lakelands, Dublin.Like