Thursday 22 March 2018

Wales well beaten by Ireland

Felix Jones, second right, celebrates his try
Felix Jones, second right, celebrates his try

Wales delivered a disjointed display in their opening World Cup warm-up game as RBS 6 Nations champions Ireland cruised to a 35-21 victory at the Millennium Stadium.

First-half tries by captain Jamie Heaslip, centre Darren Cave and his midfield colleague Keith Earls sent Ireland on their way, before substitute Simon Zebo's early second-half score sealed the deal after Wales lost debutant flanker Ross Moriarty to the sin-bin following a swinging high hit on Zebo.

Full-back Felix Jones added a fifth touchdown after 54 minutes, and fly-half Paddy Jackson chipped in with two penalties and two conversions, leaving Wales at sixes and sevens and only able to reflect on consolation tries for Richard Hibbard, Justin Tipuric and Alex Cuthbert, with James Hook adding one conversion and Gareth Anscombe two.

Hook and his half-back Mike Phillips were both substituted after just 49 minutes, which said everything about Wales' lack of tactical control during a game that saw a largely second-string side outplayed in most key areas.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland knows that the result means little, but a number of players could have removed themselves from the World Cup selection equation, with Gatland's final 31-man squad announcement just over three weeks away ahead of a tournament that sees his team in the same punishing pool as England and Australia.

Ireland, though, march on under the masterly coaching direction of Joe Schmidt, and with many pundits tipping them to reach at least the World Cup semi-finals in October, it is difficult to doubt that prediction at this stage.

Their only dark moment during an otherwise dominant afternoon was seeing Munster flanker Tommy O'Donnell carried off near the end after suffering what appeared to be a serious injury.

Wales showed 14 changes from the side than ran Six Nations opponents Italy ragged in Rome last March, with only prop Aaron Jarvis remaining, while there were Test debuts for Moriarty, wing Eli Walker, centre Tyler Morgan and lock Dominic Day.

Ireland, meanwhile, recalled centre Earls and lock Donnacha Ryan for their first Test starts in 29 months, while Heaslip won his 73rd cap to overtake David Wallace as his country's most capped back-row forward.

The Millennium Stadium roof was closed, replicating conditions ahead of the World Cup next month when both countries will play pool games in Cardiff, and Ireland struck an opening blow after just nine minutes when Heaslip touched down unopposed following a powerful run by scrum-half Eoin Reddan that set up an imposing attacking position.

And matters did not get any easier for Wales, and after Earls went close to scoring Ireland's second try, his midfield partner Cave then pounced from short-range, with Jackson's conversion following an earlier penalty that opened up a fully-deserved 15-0 advantage.

Wales could not get into the game, and when fly-half James Hook tried to free Walker in space, the Ospreys speed merchant was crunched by an immense Andrew Trimble tackle and Earls sprinted 30 metres to claim Ireland's third try before another Jackson conversion made it 22-0.

A Jackson penalty took Ireland 25 points clear, but Wales belatedly stirred at the end of a half that had seen them display some worrying defensive deficiencies when Hibbard touched down wide out following a slick Justin Tipuric pass, before some acrobatic work by Walker almost saw him score following a clever Hallam Amos kick.

Wales, though, could have no complaints about the 25-7 interval scoreline, and they required a vast improvement during the second 40 minutes or face the prospect of suffering a comprehensive home defeat.

Seasoned international Taulupe Faletau replaced number eight Dan Baker at half-time, but Wales still struggled for momentum as Moriarty was yellow-carded for a reckless lunge on Zebo that did not help his team's cause.

Jones then continued the game's one-sided nature with another touchdown, and although Ireland had substitute forward Chris Henry sin-binned for a technical offence, they were way too far in front for it to make any difference, even though Wales had the final say with a Tipuric solo try and Cuthbert's corner finish that gave the scoreline an unbalanced feel.

Press Association

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