SportRugby

Ireland wallop Wales in World Cup warm-up

RugbyBy Sunday World
Simon Zebo celebrates his try
Simon Zebo celebrates his try

Keith Earls pressed his World Cup claims with his first Test try in three-and-a-half years as Ireland thumped lacklustre Wales 35-21 in Cardiff.

Munster centre Earls impressed on his first Ireland appearance in 29 months, but flanker Tommy O'Donnell's World Cup outlook seemed bleak after a nasty-looking late injury.

Captain Jamie Heaslip, Darren Cave, Simon Zebo and Felix Jones all crossed for a collected Ireland side, but a wayward showing will plunge Wales playmaker James Hook's World Cup chances into jeopardy.

Ireland shrugged off 13 changes from their 40-10 RBS 6 Nations-clinching victory in Scotland to produce the far stronger start, skipper Heaslip crossing for the first score.

Fly-half Paddy Jackson - battling hard for a spot in Ireland's final 31-man World Cup squad - fluffed the seemingly regulation conversion to sum up a mixed opening.

The Ulster playmaker kicked well out of hand but was turned over more than once in the opening exchanges.

Fergus McFadden, Earls and Felix Jones all produced neat breaks as the visitors dominated the breakdown, exuding the usual scientific phase play associated with Joe Schmidt's side.

Jackson posted a penalty to extend Ireland's advantage to 8-0, before hooker Richardt Strauss took a heavy blow to the head and was temporarily replaced by Rory Best.

Earls outfoxed Wales' defence leaving Richard Hibbard and Hallam Amos to deny the resurgent Munster centre a score. But from the scrum Darren Cave eased home for Ireland's second try, with Jackson adding the conversion.

James Hook indicated why his World Cup place is on the line by throwing a horrible hospital pass that left Walker a sitting target for the onrushing Andrew Trimble.

The Ulster wing duly thundered through debutant Walker, allowing Earls to race home for Ireland's third try.

Full-back Jones almost set Trimble clear, but Ireland's right wing could not quite sneak in, though Jackson quickly slotted his second penalty to extend Ireland's lead to 25-0.

Wales finally troubled the scorers when Justin Tipuric sent Hibbard over from a lineout front peel, Hook converting from the touchline.

Buoyed by that try, Wales turned Ireland's defence thanks to Amos' grubber, but Walker failed to ground the ball and the try was chalked off.

Ross Moriarty compounded Wales' miserable day with a brainless yellow card for swinging an arm into Simon Zebo's head.

The Gloucester back-rower blotted his debut copybook and was perhaps fortunate not to receive a red card.

No sooner had Moriarty departed for 10 minutes in the bin than Ireland scored again, Zebo popping over from close range.

Donnacha Ryan then left the fray to be replaced by Dan Tuohy, the Munster lock impressing on his long-awaited return to the Test arena.

Jones ghosted in for Ireland's fifth try to extend the lead to 35-7, Wales losing further ground with Moriarty in the sin-bin.

Chris Henry was then hit with a yellow card for Ireland, less than five minutes after joining the action, for killing the ball.

Ireland emptied their bench after the hour, losing some tempo as a result but clearly well set for victory.

Tipuric doubled Wales' try count after replacement Gareth Anscombe boosted the direction for Warren Gatland's side, further highlighting Hook's shortcomings.

Munster flanker O'Donnell received lengthy treatment on the field after suffering an apparent leg injury, and was carried from the field on a stretcher.

O'Donnell received oxygen on the field, and on first glance his blow looked serious.

With Rhys Ruddock already ruled out through a broken arm, any lengthy absence for O'Donnell would leave head coach Joe Schmidt with few decisions to make on his back-row World Cup selection plans.

Alex Cuthbert claimed Wales' third try at the death, but the hosts' late rally did little to mask clear shortcomings on the day.