When Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and his staff were formulating Ireland’s pre World Cup schedule, the penultimate game against Wales which takes place today was always going to provide an opportunity for some fringe players to clinch their spot in the final 31-man squad.
In an ideal scenario, Ireland would have performed to a decent level against England. They didn’t have to win, but a performance which demonstrated the hard work they put in on the training ground, and which showed clear signs of developing a gameplan to be utilised at the World Cup, would have ticked all the boxes.
However, not only did Ireland not get the ‘W’, but they produced a shambolic performance which has raised serious and unwanted questions just a few weeks out from their Pool A opener against Scotland on September 22.
For a squad whose confidence is already a bit ropey after two one-sided defeats during the Six Nations, those 80 minutes in south-west London will have further sown the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Irish players.
This is why today’s clash in Cardiff has a new level of significance.
Whatever about the starting XV which Schmidt has selected and the subsequent impact on his final 31-man squad for the World Cup, this game is now about something so much more important.
We’re only just past the halfway mark of this calendar year and already, Ireland have shipped three convincing defeats which have shaken the foundations of this team.
It is imperative that Ireland produce something which is on the other end of the spectrum of what they brought to the table against Eddie Jones’ side.
And there is no better opportunity to do so when you look at the selection which Warren Gatland has gone with for his last game at the Principality Stadium.
Although Ireland are without many of those who you expect to start against Scotland in three weeks’ time, they have enough experience and talent, on paper at least, to put in a display which will leave Irish supporters breathing a little bit easier before they make the long journey to the Land of the Rising Sun.
The players have spoken at great lengths this summer in their dealings with the media that the disappointing Six Nations is but a distant memory. It’s history, they’ve analysed it, learned from it and moved on.
If Ireland falter once again when Romain Poite blows the full-time whistle later this afternoon, those words will ring hollow.
Their issues will no longer be considered a blip but a more significant and serious systemic issue. And with time running out before Ireland take on Gregor Townsend’s men in Yokohama, the prospect of finally breaking the last-eight barrier could be another four years away.