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Leigh Halfpenny on form as Wales see off Ireland in a Rugby World Cup warm-up


Leigh Halfpenny was instrumental in Wales' win over Ireland

Leigh Halfpenny was instrumental in Wales' win over Ireland

Leigh Halfpenny was instrumental in Wales' win over Ireland

Leigh Halfpenny kicked Wales to victory over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in a high-octane World Cup preparation game that took its toll on both sets of players.

Full-back Halfpenny booted three penalties and a conversion of flanker Justin Tipuric's first-half try to edge Wales home 16-10 in their final Test before coach Warren Gatland names his 31-man World Cup squad on Monday.

It was the same scenario for Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, and there was concern midway through the second period when wing Keith Earls had to be carried off injured while numerous bumps and bruises were the order of the day elsewhere during an intense 80 minutes.

Lock Iain Henderson scored a try for Ireland just before half-time, with Johnny Sexton adding a conversion and penalty, and both countries now build to their final World Cup warm-up fixtures next Saturday when Ireland tackle England at Twickenham and Wales host Italy.

Gatland had more to be pleased about than his opposite number Schmidt, particularly the performance of 23-year-old debutant prop Tomas Francis, while seasoned campaigners like Gethin Jenkins, Alun-Wyn Jones and Jamie Roberts all delivered quality displays.

Ireland desperately tried to carve out a victory for skipper Paul O'Connell on his final Test match appearance in Dublin before he retires from international rugby after the World Cup, but despite a late surge when substitute hooker Sean Cronin was inches short of a touchdown with the game's final play, it was not to be.

O'Connell received a rapturous reception before and after the game, yet Wales stole his thunder and underlined they mean World Cup business as they prepare for a punishing pool that also includes England and Australia.

O'Connell led a strong Irish team containing the likes of Sexton, Conor Murray and Jamie Heaslip as Ireland looked to make it a hat-trick of pre-tournament victories following wins earlier this month against Wales and Scotland.

Gatland, meanwhile, handed a Test debut to York-born Exeter forward Francis, with wing George North returning after a five-month absence following three concussion injuries last season. North won his 50th cap, making him the youngest player at 23 years, 138 days in rugby union history to reach that landmark.

Ireland made a strong start, with Sexton twice at the heart of purposeful attacking plays inside the opening two minutes as he mixed and matched his kicking and running game superbly.

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Francis shone during the early stages as he spearheaded a strong Welsh scrum, twice helping the visitors gain set-piece penalties, and Halfpenny booted the visitors into an 18th-minute lead when he landed an angled penalty.

Wales continued to turn the screw on Ireland in terms of territory, and after skipper Alun-Wyn Jones won a lineout deep inside the opposition 22 the home side could not hold a rampant Welsh pack and Tipuric touched down under a pile of bodies.

Halfpenny added the conversion and a 10-point advantage inside 30 minutes was just reward for the dominant efforts of a Wales forward unit that looked a step ahead in terms of thought and deed.

Sexton then opened Ireland's account with a penalty, and on the stroke of half-time Wales' scrum creaked for the first time under pressure and Henderson claimed the close-range touchdown, with Sexton's conversion making it 10-10.

The players continued pummelling into each other, with the game proving to be of significantly higher intensity than when Ireland beat Wales 35-21 in Cardiff three weeks ago.

Ireland pressed hard for their second try during a period of relentless pressure which severely tested the visiting defence, but two Halfpenny penalties were the only scoring acts of the second half, despite Cronin's best efforts.

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