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Ireland head to Japan on top of the world after convincing win over Wales

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best signed off at the Aviva Stadium with an encouraging victory.

Ireland 19

Wales 10

Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium 

AN IDEAL PARTING gift in many ways.

Ireland reminded themselves and their supporters of their quality in their final World Cup warm-up before flying to Japan by scoring three tries in a convincing victory over Warren Gatland’s Wales, moving into number one in World Rugby’s rankings for the first time ever as a result.

The victory also meant that head coach Joe Schmidt and captain Rory Best tasted success in what was their final game at the Aviva Stadium before moving on post-World Cup. 

rob-kearney-celebrates-his-try-with-robbie-henshaw-and-conor-murray Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Best received a huge standing ovation as he was replaced in the 53rd minute of this impressive Ireland win, one that suggests that what happened at Twickenham three weeks ago was a genuine blip in the midst of a heavy pre-season.

Energetic and focused here in Dublin, Schmidt’s men delivered an outstanding defensive performance and clinically took their chances in the Wales 22. This was much more like the Ireland of 2018 and their head coach will hope it’s a sign of even better to come in their World Cup opener against Scotland on 22 September.

It wasn’t perfect against the Welsh, and a second-half injury to Keith Earls is worrying for Ireland. The Munster man was making his first appearance of the season but had to limp off, rejecting a lift on the stretcher. Cian Healy – just back from an ankle issue – was also forced off at half-time, seemingly due to a head injury.

More positively, Johnny Sexton enjoyed a positive 64-minute outing in the number 10 shirt as he made his return, while Robbie Henshaw was superb at outside centre in his opening run-out of the season.

Indeed, Henshaw’s powerful midfield partnership with Bundee Aki was among the highlights of the Irish performance, while the likes of Josh van der Flier, and try-scoring pair James Ryan – who was man of the match – and Tadhg Furlong impressed in the forward pack.

Ireland’s lineout had two early failings but, with Ryan calling, recovered to deliver some clean possession, as the scrum also provided a clean platform at important times in the contest.

Rob Kearney was the other Irish try-scorer in an assured showing at 15, while the bench impact from the likes of Dave Kilcoyne and Rhys Ruddock was punchy. All in all, this was thoroughly encouraging from Ireland’s point of view.

josh-van-der-flier Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Wales had a fine opportunity to open the scoring in the second minute, after Jean Kleyn edged offside, but fullback Leigh Halfpenny was wide with what looked to be a straightforward chance off the tee. 

After Sexton shook off his rust by kicking the 22m restart out on the full, Ireland’s defence came to the fore, featuring some superb backfield coverage by Rob Kearney, a big strip from the freakish James Ryan and several excellent reads by Robbie Henshaw.

Cian Healy and Kleyn contributed an important choke tackle turnover too, but there were early lineout struggles for Ireland as the Welsh picked off captain Best’s first two throws out of touch – though he pounced for a breakdown turnover penalty after the second.

Ireland finally got their hands on the ball and sparked into life in an attacking sense as the game entered the second quarter, the sharp Aki making a half-break and offload to Henshaw before right wing Jordan Larmour progressed into the 22 and Wales were pinged for offside.

Ireland went into the right corner and though their maul was repelled, the likes of Tadg Furlong and Josh van der Flier carrying hard before Stander went right over the top of Wales out-half Rhys Patchell, providing quick ball for Sexton to send Kearney bursting outside Jon Davies and through Halfpenny for a clinical score.

Sexton converted for a 7-0 lead and with Patchell forced off with a head injury sustained as Stander trampled over him, Gatland had to send Dan Biggar onto the pitch far earlier than planned.

rob-kearney-scores-a-try-despite-leigh-halfpenny Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt would have been disappointed with how Ireland attempted to consolidate their lead, as a tackle in the air from Larmour allowed Halfpenny to reduce the deficit and then Biggar very nearly scored from an intercept. 

The Welshman picked off Sexton’s pass on an Ireland lineout attack and nearly sprinted home from the halfway line, only for the hard-working Henshaw to wonderfully track back and tackle him, with Kearney sliding in to prevent Biggar from grounding as he rolled over the tryline. 

It was a stunning defensive save, but Ireland couldn’t stop the Welsh from the ensuing five-metre scrum, as Hadleigh Parkes picked a superb line off scrum-half Tomos Williams to bust in between Aki and Henshaw for a try that Halfpenny converted. 

Schmidt’s men had one final attacking possession just before the break but after a van der Flier linebreak, they clocked up a total of 17 unproductive phases that saw Sexton smashed by Jake Ball just after passing, then choke tackled to end the half.

Trailing 10-7, Ireland had the brighter start to the second half and some hungry work from Larmour gave them a prime attacking platform in the Welsh 22, as he chased a Sexton bomb and then won a turnover penalty at the subsequent breakdown. 

James Ryan was held up as Ireland then hammered carries at the Welsh tryline, but they eventually smashed over from the five-metre scrum as surges from Henshaw and Ryan were followed by Furlong thundering through Wales scrum-half Williams for the try. 

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bundee-aki-with-jonathan-davies-and-rhys-patchell Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Sexton converted for a 14-10 lead before Earls departed with that injury as Best was applauded off, and Ireland were very much in the mood now.

Dave Kilcoyne, on for Cian Healy at half-time, led the Irish scrum to a huge penalty near the halfway line and they went back into the Welsh 22 for another extended period of aggressive pressure that concluded with lock Ryan battering over to score in the right-hand five-metre channel.

With Schmidt having emptied his bench and The Fields ringing out around the Aviva, Ireland just failed to put the cherry on top in the closing minutes against 14 Welshmen – Adam Beard having been binned – but this was a pleasing afternoon nonetheless.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Rob Kearney, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [2 from 3]

Wales scorers:

Tries: Hadleigh Parkes

Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny [1 from 1]

PenaltiesLeigh Halfpenny [1 from 2]

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls (Garry Ringrose ’53); Johnny Sexton (Jack Carty ’64), Conor Murray (Luke McGrath ’72); Cian Healy (HIA – Dave Kilcoyne ‘HT), Rory Best (captain) (Sean Cronin ’53), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’57); James Ryan, Jean Kleyn (Iain Henderson ’53); CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier (Rhys Ruddock ’59), 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 – yellow card ’78), Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty (Josh Navidi ’60).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal [France]. 

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