Wales edge Ireland in bruising World Cup warm-up
Frustration for Paul O’Connell on final international appearance in Ireland
The cascading rain that enveloped the Aviva stadium for the final 10 minutes of the contest provided a suitably leaden hued backdrop to a disappointing afternoon from an Ireland perspective. The sense of frustration will be heightened by the final moments of the contest when Ireland’s replacement hooker Seán Cronin was adjudged by television match official Graham Hughes to have been held up over the line.
Ireland almost penned an escape clause but over the 80 minutes Wales just about deserved the victory, not least for the performance of their openside flanker and a richly deserving man-of-the-match Justin Tipuric, who more than any other individual did more to thwart the home side. His work at the breakdown forced Ireland to concede either possession or penalties.
The crowd, so desperate to acclaim Irish captain Paul O’Connell’s last game at the Aviva in a green jersey, gave him the rousing reception he deserved – Wales sportingly stayed on the pitch to acknowledge his milestone – but his disappointment with the result was palpable when addressing the crowd.
A primary concern is the neck and jaw injuries suffered by Keith Earls that saw him depart on a stretcher after 63 minutes. The player did manage a thumbs-up as he left the pitch, hopefully an indication that the damage is not severe and Joe Schmidt later confirmed the player was “fine” and “lucid” in the dressing room.
In first addressing the positives, Iain Henderson’s performance was little short of astonishing in terms of impact and athleticism and the try he scored was a fitting embellishment. Jack McGrath wasn’t far behind, while Strauss until just before he was forced off, Jamie Heaslip and Jordi Murphy, more so in the second half, were industrious in their work-rate. Cronin produced a hugely effective cameo from the bench.
Issues for Ireland on the day was the lack of penetration behind the scrum, the overreliance on the aerial bombardment and the very narrow way they attacked for the most part. One graphic illustration came late-on when Felix Jones hugged the left touchline unmarked; manically waving his hands for a cross-kick but instead Ireland pursued their one-out assault around the fringes.
The home side had to commit too many numbers to the breakdown, Wales cleverly picking and choosing moments to contest the ball or otherwise fanning out in a red wall. The visitors always had extra defenders and for the most part Ireland couldn’t find a way through or around them.
Little errors pockmarked Ireland’s ambition, a knock-on here, a dropped pass there and the occasionally indiscriminate kicking. Time and again Ireland recycled ball through several phases before eventually running out of options and numbers and forced to kick the ball.
There were several occasions in the half when Conor Murray or another member of the backline had to, in desperation, try to effect a one-man clear-out to rescue possession. Tipuric zeroed in, sniffing out an isolated Irish ball carrier, securing either a turnover or forcing the concession of a penalty.
Wales were more muscular in most facets of play, their clearout at the breakdown, sharper and more authoritative. The strength and conditioning work they’ve done was very evident.
Ireland lost four lineouts and conceded several free-kicks and a penalty at the scrum. South African referee Craig Joubert penalised them liberally and it is something they’ll have to manage a little better.
Ireland’s back play was largely fractured, although there were several noteworthy individual contributions, but the cohesion and ability to effect definite breaks was lacking. There is mitigation in several Irish players playing their first game of the season and rustiness was inevitable.
Dave Kearney was excellent for the most part, his brother Rob finishing on the positive side of the ledger, while Jonathan Sexton was another whose contribution, while not perfect, was notable. Robbie Henshaw showed a tremendous appetite both with and without the ball but Wales were largely comfortable in defence.
The visitors led 10-0 through Tipuric’s try from a well constructed lineout maul, converted by Leigh Halfpenny, who also added a penalty. Sexton kicked a penalty before in first-half injury time Henderson demonstrated power and athleticism to force his way over for a try under the posts, one which the Irish outhalf converted.
Two Leigh Halfpenny penalties after the interval nudged Wales to a 16-10 lead as both coaches emptied the benches. To their credit the home side produced their best passage of play as they chased the game but ultimately came up agonisingly short.
There is little doubt that Schmidt will be keeping plenty in reserve for the World Cup but as his side head to Twickenham for a date with England next Saturday he’ll want to see a progression in execution and nuance in Ireland’s attacking patterns.
Dave Kearney made a strong case for inclusion in the World Cup squad but so much of what Schmidt and his management team will deliberate upon over the next 24 hours will be predicated by some injury concerns.
For the second time this season, Wales have shown that they’re capable of shutting down Ireland, as they did in Cardiff during the Six Nations. England will be equally muscular. It’ll be interesting to see how much Ireland learn from today. Momentum will be key in every sense of the word in London next Saturday.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 17 mins: Halfpenny pen, 0-3; 23 mins: Tipuric try, Halfpenny con, 0-10; 28 mins: Sexton pen, 3-10; 40 mins: Henderson try, Sexton con, 10-10. Half-time. 63 mins: Halfpenny pen, 10-13; 70 mins: Halfpenny pen, 10-16.
IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); D Kearney (Leinster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), R Henshaw (Connacht), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); J McGrath (Leinster), R Strauss (Leinster), N White (Connacht); I Henderson (Ulster), P O’Connell (capt); P O’Mahony (Munster), J Murphy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster) for Strauss (50 mins), S O’Brien (Leinster) for O’Mahony (51 mins), T Furlong (Leinster) for White (56 mins), D Kilcoyne (Munster) for McGrath (60 mins), F Jones (Munster) for Earls, P Jackson (Ulster) for Sexton, E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray (all 63 mins), D Ryan (Munster) for Fitzgerald (67 mins).
WALES: L Halfpenny (Toulon); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Scarlets), J Roberts (Harlequins), G North (Northampton); D Biggar (Ospreys), R Webb (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), K Owens (Scarlets), T Francis (Exeter), B Davies (Wasps), A-W Jones (Ospreys, capt), D Lydiate (Ospreys), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: P James (Ospreys) for Jenkins (46 mins), J King (Ospreys) for Lydiate (50-60 mins), A Jarvis (Ospreys)for Francis, S Baldwin (Ospreys) for Owens, L Charteris (Racing Metro) for B Davies (all 53 mins), H Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons) for Roberts (61 mins), R Priestland (Scarlets) for Biggar, G Davies (Scarlets) for Webb (both 63 mins), King for Jones (72 mins).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)