Wales 21Ireland 35
Rory Keane reports from the Millennium Stadium
IRELAND BEGAN THEIR World Cup warm-up series in stunning fashion at the Millennium Stadium with a 35-21 victory over an experimental Wales side – but injury worries over Andrew Trimble and Tommy O’Donnell have cast a shadow over a dominant display.
Jamie Heaslip crosses for Ireland’s first try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
A three-try blitz from Jamie Heaslip, Darren Cave and Keith Earls left Wales stunned in the opening half hour, with Simon Zebo and Felix Jones adding scores in the second half.
Paddy Jackson contributed 10 points from the tee in an assured display.
Wales replied with five-pointers from Richard Hibbard, Justin Tipuric and Alex Cuthbert.
Much has been made of Warren Gatland’s squad enduring punishing pre-season camps in Switzerland and Qatar, but it was the visitors who looked the sharper outfit in the opening exchanges.
Ireland looked to be in for their first try in the eight minute but Eoin Reddan dropped Earls’ switch pass following great interplay between the Munster centre and Fergus McFadden down the left wing.
Dan Baker made a mess at the back of the ensuing Welsh scrum to hand possession back to Ireland with Heaslip strolling over unopposed a few phases later.
Jackson missed the conversion as his side established an early 5-0 lead.
Ireland were in the ascendancy again minutes later as Jones scythed through the Welsh defence before feeding the onrushing Heaslip who was hauled down just short of the line. Jackson’s subsequent grubber kick was slightly overcooked allowing the home side off the hook once more.
The Ireland No 10 added his first three-pointer of the contest in the 18th minute to further increase his side’s lead.
Paddy Jackson has a shot at goal. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
The waves of Irish attacks kept coming with Earls showing great strength to shrug off the challenges of Scott Williams, Dominic Day and Hallam Amos on his way to the try-line with Hibbard putting in a superb cover tackle to deny the 31-year-old three-quarter.
It mattered little, however, as Cave cruised over for the easiest of scores from the ensuing scrum, the Ulster centre running a hard line off Reddan to glide over the whitewash unopposed.
Ireland’s next try would have warmed the heart of defence coach Les Kiss as Trimble smashed Eli Walker in midfield with Earls seizing on the debutant’s spilled pass to race away from 50 metres out. Jackson added the extras for both tries to give Ireland a commanding 22-0 lead.
Walker made amends for his earlier error with a great defensive hit on Jones with Trimble free on the right edge. That tackle ended Trimble’s afternoon with the Ulsterman hobbling off in the 33rdminute.
Shell-shocked for 30 minutes on their home patch, Wales finally clicked into gear with four minutes of the half remaining.
Hibbard, the home side’s best player of the first half by a mile, ghosted over down the blindside following simple wraparound move with Justin Tipuric at the lineout.
The Welsh revival continued as Amos sent a pin-point kick into the dead ball area with Walker showing his pace to touch down in the corner but the TMO ruled the Ospreys flyer had knocked on in-goal to leave the score at 25-7 heading into the break.
Wales found themselves a man down five minutes into the half with Ross Moriarty dispatched to the sin-bin for a swinging arm on Zebo which left the Munster winger dazed on the deck for several minutes.
Felix Jones crosses from a classy Simon Zebo pass. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Zebo recovered, however, to take O’Donnell’s pass and crash over for his side’s fourth try of the afternoon. Jackson pushed the touchline conversion as Ireland increased their lead to 23 points.
Zebo turned provider four minutes later as the British and Irish Lion fired out a stunning skip pass to put Jones over.
Chris Henry would have been keen to impose himself on the game but the Ulster flanker was sent to the bin on the hour mark for hands in the ruck.
Tipuric finished off a flowing Welsh attack involving youngster Tyler Morgan and Amos late on.
Cuthbert, who a had a quiet shift, had the final say with a late try, but those scores proved merely a consolation for the overpowered hosts.
The worrying sight of Munster flanker O’Donnell leaving the pitch on a stretcher proved a bitter end to an encouraging afternoon.
Tougher tests lie ahead… but this was a great start.
WALES: Hallam Amos; Alex Cuthbert, Tyler Morgan, Scott Williams (Morgan ‘54), Eli Walker; James Hook (Anscombe 48), Mike Phillips (Williams’48); Nicky Smith (Evans ‘49), Richard Hibbard (Dacey 49), Aaron Jarvis (Andrew ‘58); Jake Ball (King ‘58), Dominic Day; Ross Moriarty; Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker (Faletau H-T)
IRELAND: Felix Jones; Andrew Trimble (Zebo ‘33), Keith Earls (Madigan ‘67), Darren Cave, Fergus McFadden; Paddy Jackson, Eoin Reddan (Marmion ‘67); Jack McGrath (Kilcoyne ‘50), Richardt Strauss (Best, ’20-26, ‘62), Mike Ross (Bent 58); Iain Henderson, Donnacha Ryan (Tuohy ‘48); Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell, Jamie Heaslip (Henry ‘53).
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