Comprehensive? Yes. Particularly educational? Maybe not, either way though; Ireland are off to a great start ahead of the long six weeks leading to World Cup 2015. For Wales, the fallout is severe but there is plenty of time left to fix what is broken.
Ahead of yesterday’s fixture all the buzz had been surrounding the pre-season work Warren Gatland’s charges were being put through. Seeing gremlins, cryotherapy and God knows what else – it seems somewhere in the middle of all this that they forgot to practice some rugby. Though I don’t wish to go too hard on the Welsh. First of all, they do this every World Cup. The PR team goes into overdrive and it is put across that they are engaged in a training regime that other sides haven’t even heard of. Secondly, the performance on Saturday was brought to us by an experimental Welsh team with four uncapped players. Fair enough, there was plenty of fresh faces in the Irish side but all of them were capped and and were at least staple names for their provinces.
Right off the bat, Ireland brought the rugby to the hosts. World Cup warm up games are always great fun for the spectator for one reason above all else – desire. Aside from the tournament itself, you rarely see players on the international stage play with such a desire to be at their utmost best and beyond than in the warm up games. It doesn’t hurt when so many positions are entirely up for grabs, be it from players dipping in form or returning from injury. On the Welsh side, Gareth Anscombe and Richard Hibbard gave the best account of themselves, though in the case of the latter it is just another reminder that Wales have failed to produce successors in certain positions. For Ireland however it was an entirely different tale. Look, I don’t want to get blindly carried away already (we’ll save that for after we beat Argentina in the Quarter Final!), but Joe Schmidt will have to do one of the hardest squad culls of his career this week. Felix Jones, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo are only three of the outstanding arguments certain players made for their position. Zebo in particular highlighted every lesson he learned from playing outside Brian O’Driscoll with that sumptuous pass to Felix Jones for the latter’s try.
Ireland have a less than stellar history in these warm up fixtures, putting in some dismal displays in 07 and losing all four games in 2011. Though many regard them as simply living up to their name and deciding selection, the match readiness they provide cannot be overstated. With that in mind Ireland have certainly come out trumps on week one, Wales on the other hand have plenty of time but lots to correct. With Australia and England in their pool – and on same day the former overcame the All Blacks to claim the Rugby Championship title – there is work to do in the Valleys. Answers should be more plentiful when the Welsh come to Dublin for the return fixture of this weekend.
Wales 21 – 35 Ireland