Wales vs Ireland match report: Welsh flop sets alarm bell ringing for Warren Gatland

Wales 21 Ireland 35: Hardly the response Warren Gatland hoped for from his fringe players, who appeared to be caught in the headlights

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The Independent Online

Wales will have to reveal more than just a new kit if they are even to progress from their World Cup pool this autumn, let alone mount a serious bid for the trophy. The Welsh Rugby Union and their kit suppliers planned a grand unveiling of their new strip in front of a full house in Cardiff, but the event proved a desperate anticlimax, just as the main event that followed.

A few hours after pool rivals Australia stunned New Zealand to claim the Rugby Championship title, a five-try home defeat was hardly the response Warren Gatland hoped for from his fringe players, who appeared to be caught in the headlights.

Gatland hoped to swell his options with a new look of his own, including six uncapped players, but after pushing his players “to the edge” for the past six weeks in Switzerland and Qatar, it was Ireland who delivered that final shove for individual hopes before Gatland trims his squad for the first time next week.

“This was an opportunity for players to perform and will have huge relevance on that decision,” said Gatland. “The challenge is working on depth in the squad and giving players the opportunity to get to a certain level and we just didn’t do well enough in the first half. I was disappointed with that but in fairness the boys did come back and scored some good tries later on.”

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, in contrast, has far more positives to reflect upon. The only blot was the sight of Munster openside flanker Tommy O’Donnell being carried off with a worrying hip injury.

Otherwise it was a near-perfect run-out for the Six Nations champions, who were 25-0 ahead before half-time and on the brink of a record win in Cardiff before Justin Tipuric, Wales’ leading light, finished the best try of the game to limit the damage and Alex Cuthbert crossed in the final play. “We were very happy with the set-piece, which gave us an opportunity to get into the game, and our defensive pressure. But we’re disappointed with our discipline in the second half,” said Schmidt.

“But there were plenty of guys putting their hand up for selection. Keith Earls was man of the match but Donnacha Ryan got through a lot of work, the skipper [Jamie Heaslip] went well, as did Tommy O’Donnell. He’s such a dynamic player for us that we have our fingers crossed for good news on his injury.”

Wales were at pains to stress they have focused far more on conditioning than rugby, but at times they looked like a bunch of strangers that had not seen a rugby ball before.

Without a platform, the backs struggled. Aaron Jarvis creaked in the scrum against Jack McGrath and twice Jake Ball was outjumped at crucial lineouts by the outstanding Jordi Murphy. Even the usually reliable Scott Williams was not immune.

Ireland were proficient as Heaslip exposed defensive naivety for the first try inside nine minutes. Darren Cave picked his angle for the second before Andrew Trimble’s crunching hit on Eli Walker, who narrowly missed a score of his own, released Keith Earls for a try after two years out of Test rugby.

Richard Hibbard finished a set-piece move before half-time but Gloucester team-mate Ross Moriarty marred his debut with a yellow card for a swinging arm on Simon Zebo. Tellingly Moriarty was later defended by Gatland.

However, Ireland’s wing dusted himself down to dive over to score and then fired a scoring pass to Felix Jones just moments later.

Wales did look dangerous in open play and Tipuric combined with Tyler Morgan and Hallam Amos for a wonderful score. Interestingly, Cuthbert ran the final 23 minutes at centre and scored, with Williams nursing a calf problem, but Wales’ options are already declining.

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