Friday 20 October 2017

Much for Joe Schmidt to be pleased about - despite Tommy O'Donnell injury

Wales 21-35 Ireland

Ireland’s Andrew Trimble is tackled by Welsh duo Dan Baker and Scott Williams during yesterday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up match at the Millennium Stadium.
Ireland’s Andrew Trimble is tackled by Welsh duo Dan Baker and Scott Williams during yesterday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up match at the Millennium Stadium.
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If it was surreal being indoors at a rugby match with the sun beating down outside then it matched the occasion.

Test matches in this part of the world in August come only as part of a pre-World Cup package, when legs and lungs are being conditioned for the main event rather than the curtain-raiser.

Which is not to say that the virtual full house in the Millennium Stadium didn't get some entertainment. The problem for the Welsh fans was that it was the away team they had to admire. There were shades of the Six Nations game here two seasons ago, when Ireland blew their hosts off the field in the first half, only to be given some 'hurry up' on the final straight.

After just over half an hour here yesterday Ireland were 25-0 in front. What had been a constant hum of conversation as the crowd milled up and back from the bar then went up a few notches. It was as if the home support were shifting more of their focus to the social stuff.

Just before half-time they got a chink of daylight, when Wales spotted a short-staffed defence around the front of an Irish lineout, and a little one-two between Mike Phillips and Richard Hibbard saw the hooker get over untouched. But when the second half opened with Ireland scoring first -helped by Ross Moriarty being binned for a high hit on replacement Simon Zebo - that sucked a bit more oxygen from the locals.

By the end of it Ireland had lots to be happy about. The cloud was the hip injury suffered by Tommy O'Donnell, who had been having a full-on afternoon. The risk with warm-ups is the injury count, which is part of the deal unfortunately, and it's desperately hard luck on O'Donnell - who needed pain medication on the field before being stretchered off en route to hospital for a scan. Given what happened to David Wallace in the run-up to the last World Cup, you wonder if Munster men in the No 7 jersey have a hex on them, but it will be 24 hours before the picture clears.

Andrew Trimble was the other casualty, but he walked off under his own steam in the first half with what coach Joe Schmidt described as a "mild foot sprain". He reckoned that it was unrelated to the foot issue that has caused the wing so many problems and that it was "nothing to be concerned about".

Like Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan, Trimble is trying to put a long-term injury behind him, and he was looking good - his monstrous hit on Eli Walker opened the door for Earls' try - before having to go off.

Otherwise, there were lots of players who had happy days and made positive impressions ahead of the squad being reduced, by up to seven players, ahead of the next warm-up - against Scotland in Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Top of that list was Man of the Match Keith Earls. Along with Donnacha Ryan, it was his first game in green since that depressing day in Rome in March 2013, when Ireland were struggling to maintain a quotient of fit players.

The issue with Earls has never been about his ability, rather his durability. He skated along here as if he'd never been away, and it was a hugely rewarding day for him. So too Ryan, who did all that was asked of him.

For the pack as a whole there was the satisfaction of having a clean sheet out of touch, while relieving Wales of three throws. Moreover, their scrummaging looked like it was something they have been working on all summer - which, of course, they haven't. The solidity in the set-piece reflected on the eight as a unit, but was an appropriate way for Mike Ross to mark his 50th cap.

Elsewhere, it was, as you'd expect, a conservative offering with a fair bit of one-out rugby, but a really useful exercise. Five tries is good on any day, but if you were Welsh you would have been mortified at the way Darren Cave, who had a solid game, was allowed to score from a scrum close in. Even allowing for the limited time spent on rugby in the build-up to this game you don't expect that level of malfunction in the defence.

Warren Gatland will know that it could have been worse, which - even allowing for the phoniness of war at this time of year - would have left him with a public relations job on his hands. Schmidt, meanwhile, can be well pleased, knowing that his hungry squad have so much more to offer. The accuracy overall was pretty good, and with Eoin Reddan having an enjoyable run picking up all the front-foot ball, they managed to maintain a decent tempo.

It flagged a bit in the final quarter, during which time Wales limited some of the optical damage, but that wasn't an issue for Schmidt's side. Saturday in Dublin is now a perfect opportunity to spread the game time and add to the momentum created here in Cardiff. Aside from Tommy O'Donnell's wretched luck, it was a good day's work.

Scorers - Ireland: Heaslip, Cave, Earls, Zebo, Jones try each; Jackson 2 pens, 2 cons. Wales: Hibbard, Tipuric, Cuthbert try each; Anscombe 2 cons, Hook con.

Ireland: F Jones; A Trimble (S Zebo 35), K Earls (I Madigan 68), D Cave, F McFadden; P Jackson, E Reddan (K Marmion 68); J McGrath (D Kilcoyne 51), R Strauss (R Best 65), M Ross (M Bent 58), I Henderson (D Tuohy 51), D Ryan, J Murphy, J Heaslip (capt; C Henry 56; yc 59-69), T O'Donnell (73)

Wales: H Amos; A Cuthbert, T Morgan, S Williams (M Morgan 56), E Walker; J Hook (G Anscombe 56), M Phillips; N Smith, R Hibbard, A Jarvis, J Ball, D Day, R Moriarty (yc 46), D Baker (T Faletau ht), J Tipuric

Referee: G Jackson (NZ)

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