Joe Schmidt called on his Ireland team to take their opportunity in the final warm-up match before the World Cup squad is announced and they did just that in a 22-17 win over Wales in Cardiff.
Returning to Principality Stadium, where Wales had clinched the Grand Slam in this fixture in March, Ireland ensured there would be no repeat with Jacob Stockdale crossing twice in the first half followed by a penalty try in the second.
However they then had to withstand a ferocious comeback from the Grand Slam champions with tries from Owen Lane on debut and the impressive Rhys Patchell off the bench in Warren Gatland’s final game at the helm in Cardiff.
Ireland enjoyed a strong start with three points from the boot of Jack Carty after Josh Navidi had been penalised for hands in the ruck.
But despite a much-changed side, Wales responded well, Owen Lane heavily involved in getting them field position. When Ireland failed to roll away at a ruck, Jarrod Evans slotted the penalty from in front to tie things up.
However midway through the half it was Ireland who went over for the first try of the game, scored by one winger but made by the other.
It all started with an initial break from Dave Kilcoyne, with the ball then taken on by Andrew Conway. The Munster winger went on a mazy run through the retreating Welsh defence before feeding Stockdale for the easy finish.
Evans had the chance to cut the deficit but pulled a penalty wide, and things got worse for Wales just before the half-hour when Stockdale grabbed his second.
If the first was a simple finish, this was another example of Stockdale’s nose for a score, pouncing on an Aaron Shingler error. The blindside flanker tried an ambitious offload on halfway and when it went to ground, Stockdale kicked forward, got a kind bounce and dotted down his second. Carty’s conversion was off-target but Ireland had surged into a 15-3 lead.
That was how it remained until the break, Carty not able to split the uprights with a penalty attempt right on the stroke of half-time.
Ireland pushed hard at the start of the second half with a long passage deep in the Welsh 22 but it came to nothing after a knock-on by Chris Farrell in the midfield following some good Wales defence.
However it was only temporary respite, with Ireland completely on top in the scrum, leading to a sin-binning for Leon Brown. That meant a return to the pitch for Samson Lee, but he was equally helpless against Andrew Porter who was hugely impressive at loosehead prop. Eventually that resulted in a penalty try as Ireland opened up a 22-3 lead.
PATCHELL LEADS THE RIPOSTE
Wales had struggled create much in attack but despite being down a man they responded well by going up the other end and pounding away at the Irish line. The pressure eventually told as Lane finished brilliantly on the right, stepping inside Carty and Garry Ringrose for the first home try.
Patchell had come on for Evans and was starting to pull the strings for Gatland’s team, getting them on the front foot in attack.
Ireland could have had a fourth try with ten minutes to go when Bundee Aki tackled James Davies and the ball went loose with Ringrose going away. However Davies was clearly in the air when tackled by Aki, who was penalised and the try ruled out.
Instead it was Patchell who got Wales’ second try, stepping his way over after the forwards had drawn in the Irish defence. He added the conversion to make it a five-point game with four minutes to go.