Joe Schmidt with selection headaches as Ireland dominate Welsh reserves
Wales 21 Ireland 35
If this warm-up is a gauge of Ireland’s World Cup prospects, then Joe Schmidt’s side are red hot.
Sadly, Wales’ pitiful effort in front of a capacity Cardiff crowd militates against wholesale judgments.
Tommy O’Donnell received oxygen on the field after a heavy late challenge and, four years after David Wallace lost his World Cup slot through injury, another number seven will hope not to suffer the same fate as his fellow Munster man.
He seemed to take a significant blow to his hip as he landed beneath two Welsh forward replacements and remained unmoved for several moments before being helped upon a stretcher.
Until then, Andrew Trimble would have raised the most concern after he limped from the fray in the first-half on his first appearance in an Irish shirt in more than a year; the prognosis on the player will soon be revealed but he naturally looked extremely disgruntled as he trudged from the fray.
Schmidt’s other biggest headache – apart from reining in the usual hype that may accompany the scoreline – is realising that the task of culling players from his squad has become even more difficult.
This week, he must lose seven or eight of his 46-man squad ahead of the final three warm-up games; if any of them featured in this game, they will feel extremely hard done by.
The injuries were isolated low points on a day when Ireland kick-started their World Cup preparations in some style.
Wales had spent much of the summer focusing on their strength and conditioning, rather than the small matter of how to play rugby.
For much of the first-half, they made an extremely persuasive argument to support this thesis.
They had spent a much-heralded stint in Doha; the near 40 degrees Celsius temperatures were virtually replicated within the Millennium Stadium.
With the roof closed, the 74-000 capacity Millennium Stadium felt like a mammoth nightclub – hot, sweaty and stinking of stale beer.
Wales played as if they had a massive hangover; Ireland as if they were ravenously thirsty for work.
Keith Earls and Darren Cave had strong halves; the Munster man celebrating his return to the side after a two-and-a-half year absence with the third try of the first-half romp.
In truth, Earls could have nabbed a hat-trick and it seemed as if within 40 minutes he might have already booked his place on the plane.
Andrew Trimble, also returning from injury, left the fray gingerly before the half was out but not before a smashing tackle on Eli Walker had laid the groundwork for Earls’ try on the half-hour.
In the forwards, Ireland were vigorous too, with Jordi Murphy very lively and, with Wales coughing up set-piece ball regularly, it was difficult not to impress.
Richardt Strauss would have been relieved that his trip to the concussion bin was mercifully brief after his stunning collision with fellow Leinster man Jordi Murphy.
Ireland took the lead in the eighth minute when captain Jamie Heaslip celebrated his becoming his country’s most capped back-row by strolling over virtually unimpeded in the ninth minute.
Paddy Jackson, about whom there continue to be valid concerns about his place-kicking, given his status as second choice in that department at Ulster, skewed the relatively easy conversion horribly to the right.
He did nail a subsequent penalty however and, although Earls was held up by Richard Hibbard, Cave swept in from a close-in scrum without a hand being laid upon him to put Ireland 15-0 ahead in the 22nd minute, Jackson converting this time.
By the half-hour, Ireland had their third try; Trimble repelled the weak-willed Welsh attempts to play some wide ball without having achieved any go-forward, by smashing into the alarmed Eli Walker.
Thus burgled, the ball bounced off his knee and into the arms of a grateful Earls who galloped home with all the glee expected of one who hadn’t appeared in green since 2013.
Jackson’s conversion and a penalty pushed the lead to an improbable 25-0 in the 33rd minute but his side dozed before the break, switching off at a five-metre lineout from where Wales ran a predictable move from the tail to front, Justin Tipuric finishing as the visitors fluffed their defensive lines.
And they nearly nabbed another on the break, Walker just failing to acrobatically touch down the grubber kick from Hallom Amos; it was the last kick of the half.
In reality, it was the last kick of the game from Warren Gatland’s men; the coach wasn’t the only one in dire need of a cold shower to dampen his fury at the break.
Ireland remained unflappable as they continued to cruise after the break; Simon Zebo joined in the try-scoring fun with an easy five-pointer in the same corner in which he scored here two seasons ago in the Six Nations to make it 30-7.
Zebo then turned provider minutes later after Tommy O’Donnell, tigerish in the tackle all day, and Iain Henderson as second man in, turned yet another Wales ball over in midfield.
Eventually, Ireland worked the field position so that Zebo could spin a quite sumptuous double skip right to left pass which left Felix Jones with a facile run-in.
Jackson missed his third kick but at 35-7, all that was left was accountancy and the emptying of the benches.
Tipuric, one of the few manful warriors on the Welsh side all afternoon, finished off his country’s second try after he himself had started the move with some excellent groundwork while Alex Cuthbert at least sent the fans off with a smile when scoring from the final play.
The emptying of Ireland’s proving to Joe Schmidt that his task of selecting a 31-man squad has arguably become even more intractable after this effortless stroll.
Wales – Hallam Amos; Alex Cuthbert, Tyler Morgan, Scott Williams capt (Matthew Morgan 55), Eli Walker; James Hook (Gareth Anscombe 50), Mike Phillips (Lloyd Williams 50); Nick Smith (Rob Evans 51), Richard Hibbard (Kristian Dacey 51), Aaron Jarvis, Jake Ball (James King 57), Dominic Day, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker (Taulupe Faletau HT).
Ireland – Felix Jones; Andrew Trimble (Simon Zebo 35), Keith Earls (Ian Madigan 68), Darren Cave, Fergus McFadden; Paddy Jackson, Eoin Reddan (Kieran Marmion 68); Jack McGrath (Dave Kilcoyne 53), Richardt Strauss (Rory Best (20-26; ), Mike Ross (Michael Bent 57), Iain Henderson, Donnacha Ryan (Dan Tuohy 50), Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell, Jamie Heaslip capt (Chris Henry 55)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)