Ireland bounced back from a record loss against England and boosted their World Cup preparations by inflicting a rare home defeat on Wales.
The Irish – beaten 57-15 by England – won in Cardiff for the first time since August 2015 after scoring three tries, two for Jacob Stockdale and a penalty try, bringing Wales’ 11-game home winning streak stretching back to November 2017 to an end.
Wales finished strongly at Principality Stadium. Debutant wing Owen Lane and Rhys Patchell (who converted both) claimed late tries for them, but it was not enough.
Here’s the key talking points from Cardiff:
IRELAND SHOW THEIR CHARACTER
Despite making 12 changes from the team that was hammered by England last week, Ireland answered the criticism levelled at them.
They showed serious physicality, made improvements in their energy and creativity, and were effective in defence. However, by the end of the game, the Men in Green were just about hanging on with the momentum swinging in Wales’ favour.
From set piece, Ireland dominated for long spells, winning six out of seven of their line-outs and all 10 of their scrums. There were one or two errors, but it was a vast improvement from Twickenham.
It was off the set piece that Ireland looked sharp at times as they initiated some formidable attacking opportunities. But for all their possession and territory at times, should have put some more than 22 points on the scoreboard.
Once the replacements came on, Ireland looked poor, made mistakes from close range and didn’t make much of an impact physically in contrast to the Welsh replacements. That will worry Joe Schmidt but there is one more warm-up game in Dublin next week to rectify these errors. And if there is any positive to draw from the victory over Wales, it was the upbeat reaction from the 42-point defeat last Saturday.
WALES’ STRONG FINISH
It’s hard to criticise Wales considering it was a second string team – with 14 changes made to the side that beat England two weeks ago.
They lacked creativity in attack and struggled in defence for large spells of the contest. But once the replacements were introduced, they grew in confidence, showed good patience in attack and defence and built a number of positive multi-phase opportunities, which yielded two tries and nearly a third.
Elliot Dee knocked on when he should have shipped the ball out wide instead.
Patchell, in particular, made a huge influence when introduced, putting the ball in the right spaces at the right time and capping off a fine display with a late try.
If there is one negative, it was Wales’ defence in the first half. They missed a staggering 20 tackles in comparison to Ireland’s four missed tackles.
However, they improved in the second period missing just one tackle.
It was poor execution, unforced errors and mistakes in the scrum that contributed to the hosts’ lack of momentum, but next week in Dublin shouldn’t present the same problems when Warren Gatland fields a full-strength team.
If there are any positives for Gatland and Co. it was another step forward for the World Cup and he gave some peripheral players an opportunity.
It was the final audition for a lot of players with Wales and Ireland’s 31-man squads to be submitted to World Rugby on Monday morning.
For Ireland, Will Adisson made some uncharacteristic errors, and if it is a shoot-out between himself and Andrew Conway, then it will be the Munster man to make the plane.
Jack Carty, named man-of-the-match, should take the third out-half slot ahead of Ross Byrne.
Chris Farrell, in the centre, looks set to miss out after a quiet afternoon. His handling let him down on a number of occasions.
For the second scrum-half slot, it looks a tight call between Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion. The Leinster man could edge it.
For Wales, Gatland said in the build up to the game that seven or eight places are still up for grabs before he announces his final party for Japan on Sunday.
Rhys Carre and Leon Brown won’t make the squad, while Scott Williams did himself no favours.
ALL ABOUT NEXT WEEK
A positive performance and an avoidance of injury should raise a smile for Gatland and Schmidt when they leave Cardiff on Sunday evening.
The result wasn’t hugely relevant but next week will be key with both sides are at full-strength, bidding for momentum and confidence before heading for Japan.
Gatland looked nonplussed in the box all afternoon, while his nemesis Schmidt was constantly bent forward looking into replays of footage from the Irish team analyst.
It all comes down to next week. The final warm-up game. And one that matters more than this dour fixture.
Both teams will be looking to build more cohesion and give themselves a good barometer as to where they are at.
With Ireland’s first match in the Rugby World Cup just four weeks away, we take a look at star players who will be key to their Webb Ellis trophy prospects in Japan.
Regarded as one of the best scrumhalves in the world, there are few weaknesses evident in the 30-year-old’s game with crisp passing, unselfish decision-making, accurate box kicking and voracious work-rate at the centre of his broad skillset. Murray will need to be at his immaculate best if Ireland are to break the glass ceiling and reach a first World Cup semi-final.
The 34-year-old’s form has been called into question in recent months but, when firing, he can cause serious damage with ball in hand. He is feisty, intelligent, an excellent decision maker and his kicking will be key to Ireland’s attack in Japan. He isn’t World Player of the Year for nothing, but needs to be at his very best in Japan.
The 23-year-old may only be in his third year in professional rugby but Ryan is developing into a leader and his physicality can set the tone for his team in defence and at the breakdown. At 6’7, the line-out is his obvious chief strength, but away from that he puts in a serious shift to get on the ball and put teammates in favourable attacking positions. The Leinster man can get around the field like a six-litre Maserati and always steps up against elite opposition.
The Ulster man has established himself as one of the best wingers in world rugby over the past 18 months. With 14 tries in 20 matches, the 23-year-old will be one of the key players that Joe Schmidt will be looking towards for inspiration this autumn. At 6ft 3in, the Lurgan man possesses pace, power and a reliability under the high ball, but his defence still needs work. Although he is some way off his 2018 form, Japan is the perfect time to turn it around and prove people wrong.
A class act. The 26-year-old is one of the inspirational leaders of an industrious Ireland front row alongside Cian Healy. The Leinster man shows up all over the pitch and is fearless in the tight areas. On his day he sets the standard for every prop in world rugby.
A 42-point record defeat to England, Joe Schmidt’s worst loss in 69 matches as head coach, eight tries conceded, 34 missed tackles, concerns over Cian Healy’s ankle and doubts over Johnny Sexton. All of this four weeks out from the Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland.
But Irish fans shouldn’t panic yet. For all the talk about the Men in Green hitting their peak ten months ago that it is something that won’t be known until after the World Cup itself.
Every team is at different stages of their preparation ahead of rugby’s global showpiece. In addition to that, coaches are trialling different tactics, different players and different combinations in a bid to hit the ground running in Japan next month.
And despite Saturday’s comprehensive 57-15 defeat, Ireland, to their defence, had travelled straight from Faro to London after eight days of gruelling warm-weather training.
Heavy legs and a large volume of workload in the lead up to the match, no doubt, would have contributed to a poor display at Twickenham.
But Schmidt is known to be one of the leading coaches in world rugby with his meticulous attention to detail and planning. The man always has a plan. It is hoped that, despite a disappointing 2019 to date, he is holding something back for the World Cup.
You don’t go from being one of the best in the world to a bad team overnight.
2018 signified arguably the greatest year in Irish rugby history: a Six Nations Grand Slam, first test series victory in Australia for almost 40 years and November’s fully deserved toppling of the All Blacks made the Men in Green become genuine World Cup contenders.
In a relatively easy qualifying group with Scotland, Russia, Japan and Samoa, it is the opener against the Scots that is likely to shape the fate of the pool, with the winner potentially playing a resurgent South Africa in the quarter-finals and the loser taking on New Zealand.
Schmidt will name his 31-man squad for the World Cup before the final warm-up match against Wales in Dublin next week. The starting XV, though, picks itself barring injury.
Captain Rory Best leads the side from hooker, despite increased scrutiny about his place in the team after the commanding loss to England.
On either side of the Ulsterman, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong will bring all their power and skill to set the physical tone at scrum and maul time.
Behind them, Devin Toner and the influential James Ryan provide huge industry and work-rate to the line-out and open play. Along with Healy, 23-year-old Ryan was Ireland’s star man last season.
In the back-row, Peter O’Mahony needs to step up after a number of recent sub-par displays in an Ireland shirt. The ever-reliable Josh van der Flier will wear the number seven jersey, with Jack Conan potentially putting pressure on CJ Stander for the number eight berth.
Form would suggest the Leinster man deserves a chance after a stellar year for the 2018 Champions Cup winners.
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton may not be fizzing on the same elevated levels of last year, but a temporary dip in form and injuries have curtailed their normal majestic influence.
Come Japan, the buzz and pressure of a World Cup environment should spur them on.
Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw will solidify the midfield, providing a fresh cutting edge to the attack while also showing serious physically in defence. Ringrose, in particular, will be hoping to put a forgettable campaign behind him.
Out wide, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls will cement both wing slots and the solid Rob Kearney will add all his 90-caps of experience to the 15 jersey. Stockdale, with 14 tries in 20 matches, is the danger man but needs to improve on his defensive reads and positioning.
Reaching a first-ever World Cup semi-final would inspire a nation and bring the curtain down on Schmidt’s illustrious seven years as Ireland coach which has been the most successful period for rugby on the Emerald Isle.
Confidence may be low for Irish rugby fans after a poor season so far, but in a World Cup year, the only thing that is important is the World Cup itself.
It’s a game of patience, and even a promising performance and an avoidance of injury against Wales over the next two weeks could change the gloomy narrative around this team and put them back on track for a grand finale in Japan.
Nickname(s): Men in Green
Coach: Joe Schmidt
Captain: Rory Best
Most caps: Brian O’Driscoll (133)
Top scorer: Ronan O’Gara (1,093)
Top try scorer: Brian O’Driscoll (46)
Best finish: Quarter-finals (1987, 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011 and 2015)
Fixtures: Scotland (September 22), Japan (September 28), Russia (October 3), Samoa (October 12)