Ireland 19 Wales 10
Sean McMahon reporting from the Aviva Stadium
It was a day of ‘lasts’ at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon. Last appearance for Rory Best at the Aviva Stadium, last appearance for Joe Schmidt at the Aviva Stadium and most importantly, the last game for Ireland before they open their World Cup campaign on September 22 against Scotland.
The performance which Ireland produced, although not perfect, will give the team huge confidence ahead of their clash with Scotland in two weeks time.
This was Ireland’s most impressive performance of the summer and it is exactly what was needed before the players depart for Japan on Wednesday.
The lineout had its issues early on before it improved throughout the match but Best put in a very strong performance around the park before he eventually departed to a boisterous standing ovation from the near-capacity crowd.
The major concern coming out of this match was the injury to Keith Earls. The Limerick man has been nursing a knee injury in recent weeks and he departed the field in the second half in some discomfort after producing a lively performance.
Wales dominated the possession stakes in the opening moments of the match and they had a great opportunity to take an early lead when Ireland were penalised at the ruck. However, Leigh Halfpenny’s opening shot at goal drifted wide and Schmidt’s side were able to breathe an early sigh of relief.
Ireland’s shaky start continued as Sexton’s restart from the 22 went directly into touch which provided Wales with an excellent attacking platform with a scrum just 22m from the Irish line.
Warren Gatland’s side were almost in as they caught Ireland slightly flat-footed by going down the blindside. A grubber kick-through looked destined for the hands of a hungry George North but thankfully from an Irish perspective, Rob Kearney tracked across to collect and dot down for a 22m dropout.
Ireland missed their first throw on their own lineout as Jean Kleyn failed to collect but minutes later, he made a telling impact by holding up a Welsh player to win a scrum turnover as Wales were building phases in the Ireland 22.
Ireland lost another lineout, this time Best’s throw being picked off by Alun Wyn Jones as CJ Stander was hoisted into the air. Like Kleyn in the previous lineout, it was Best’s turn to bounce back from the setpiece malfunction by clamping down at the ruck to win a penalty and much-needed release of pressure moments later.
Ireland finally began to go through some phases and Bundee Aki, like in the final moments at Twickenham, made a great break up the far touchline to get in behind the Welsh defence. The Connacht man offloaded to Kearney before Jordan Larmour used his footwork to gain more metres. Unfortunately, James Ryan knocked the ball on but Ireland were playing with an advantage and Sexton opted to kick to the corner.
From the resulting lineout, Ireland’s ball-carriers, in the form of Jack Conan, Stander, Ryan and Furlong, came to the fore and the Welsh defence became narrow as they attempted to deal with Ireland’s massive carries.
Ultimately, space was generated out wide and Sexton fired a pass to Kearney as he galloped over a would-be tackle attempt from Halfpenny to notch the first try of the game. Sexton converted to give Ireland a 7-0 lead after 22 minutes.
Wales narrowed the deficit almost immediately as Larmour made contact with Halfpenny in the air and the Wales fullback made no mistake on his second attempt to claim three points for his side with a well-struck kick.
Ireland’s defence, which up until this point looked extremely comfortable, began to wobble somewhat and Dan Biggar, who came on for Rhys Patchell early on, read a Sexton pass as he intercepted and sprinted downfield.
Keith Earls attempted a dramatic ankle tap but it was the hard-working Robbie Henshaw who sprinted back to make a superb tackle just as Biggar was attempting to ground the ball. Kearney also flew in to make sure that Biggar couldn’t adjust his body to ground it.
A 5m scrum was rewarded but Ireland couldn’t keep them out this time as Hadleigh Parkes ran a superb line to crash over under the posts.
The conversion was a formality as Wales took a 10-7 lead with them into halftime.
Ireland put on the pressure at the beginning of the second half and a scrum in the Welsh 22 saw Ireland go through the phases until they won another penalty after the visitors infringed.
From a 5m scrum just to the left of the posts, Ireland struck.
Some big carries from Henshaw and Ryan laid the platform for an onrushing Furlong, who collected and crashed over the line for Ireland’s second try of the game. Sexton converted to give Ireland a 14-10 lead.
Ireland then got that crucial score eight minutes later when James Ryan bundled over the line under a pile of bodies and after a check with his TMO, referee Mathieu Raynal awarded the try to give Schmidt’s side some breathing room as they entered the closing stages.
Worryingly for Ireland, Keith Earls was removed from the field of play with what looked to be a leg injury as he was replaced by Garry Ringrose.
Ireland continued to dominate the closing stages as both teams rang the changes. A massive Irish maul yielded a penalty advantage as Carty, who came on for Sexton earlier in the second half, opted to kick for the corner again in search of that fourth try.
The maul was stopped once again but after multiple phases close to the Welsh line, another penalty was awarded and this time, Raynal lost his patience as Adam Beard was sent to the bin.
Ireland correctly opted for the scrum but they couldn’t muster that final try. Despite that, Schmidt’s side now look like they’re going to Japan in very decent shape.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls (Ringrose 53′), Jonathan Sexton (Carty 64′), Conor Murray (McGrath 72′), Cian Healy (Kilcoyne 41′), Rory Best (c) (Cronin 53′), Tadhg Furlong (Porter 57′), James Ryan, Jean Kleyn (Henderson 53′), CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier (Ruddock 60′), Jack Conan.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Jack Conan.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Liam Williams 66′); George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Rhys Patchell (Dan Biggar 23′), Tomos Williams (Gareth Davies 70′); Wyn Jones (Nicky Smith 60′), Elliot Dee (Ken Owens 60′), Tomas Francis (Dillon Lewis 60′), Jake Ball (Adam Beard 75′), Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty (Josh Navidi 60′).
Replacements: Ken Owens, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams.