Ireland avenge Six Nations loss to Wales in World Cup warm-up
Six Nations winners Ireland saw their experience tell against an experimental Wales side, running out 35-21 winners at the Millennium Stadium in their first Rugby World Cup warm up-game.
Patient at set plays and organised in attack throughout, Joe Schmidt’s side avenged their 23-16 spring loss in Cardiff impressively here. Coral make Ireland 7/1 to follow up their consecutive Six Nations titles with a World Cup victory.
Wales snuffed out early danger thanks to scrum half Mike Phillips, but Irish skipper Jamie Heaslip crossed first, capitalising on a poor pass from opposition counterpart Scott Williams.
Ireland cottoned on to a weak Welsh short side, kicking through defence despite Phillips barking orders at the young guns selected by Warren Gatland. Ulster centre Darren Cave put the visitors further in front.
The hosts also struggled in the scrum, with the Irish overpowering them and profiting from miscommunication. Keith Earls extended the visitors’ lead just before half an hour when Eli Walker lost possession.
Dominant Ireland were straight on the attack again, but Wales blushes were spared by a crunching challenge from captain Williams, causing Andrew Trimble to go off.
This appeared to boost the home side and, with Gatland’s defence growing into the game, the Welsh responded with Richard Hibbard striking back from a line-out, aided by debutant lock Dominic Day.
Ireland’s control remain strong and, although Wales gave their all to fight back, they struggled with ball handling on what was a greasy surface at the Millennium Stadium.
Ross Moriarty’s sin binning for a swinging arm on Simon Zebo, who later crossed along with full back Felix Jones to extend the Irish advantage, effectively put the game beyond the hosts.
With rescuing a result out of reach, Welsh coach Gatland looked to his bench to blood other fresh faces. Few impressed, however, though Ospreys winger Walker’s acrobatic skills almost resulting in a try late in the first half.
No sooner had Moriarty returned from the bin than Ireland’s Chris Henry took his place after not rolling away in the tackle. Wales failed to take advantage of their opposition being a man light, though.
Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric crossed after excellent work from Walker, Hallam Amos and Matthew Morgan, and Alex Cuthbert followed suit at the death, but it was too little too late for the Welsh.
Victory for Ireland came despite Paddy Jackson struggling with his kicking and missing multiple conversions, while Tommy O’Donnell was stretchered off late on with a hip injury.
Wales’ own errors and lack of flow reflected the experimental nature of Gatland’s XV, so there is work to be done synthesising old hands and new faces together. Coral have moved the Welsh out to 16/1 for Rugby World Cup glory, and that price shows no sign of shortening until the right blend is found.