Ireland to start Rugby World Cup in Japan ranked No 1
DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland will go into the Rugby World Cup as the No. 1-ranked test side after beating Wales 19-10 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Ireland earned the top ranking for the first time, showing progression in its warmup matches for the tournament in Japan this month.
The Irish were thrashed by England 57-15 at Twickenham two weeks ago, and their second-string side beat Wales' second string in Cardiff last weekend. In the return match between World Cup squads, Ireland limited Wales to a 10-7 lead at halftime, then impressively dominated the second half to score two muscle tries and keep the Six Nations champion scoreless.
The Irish pack edged Wales', and Irish backs Jonathan Sexton, Robbie Henshaw notably, and Keith Earls warmed up in their first appearances in the World Cup buildup.
Wales had to be worried how it was outmuscled in the second half, spending most of the time on defense. There was also concern for flyhalf Rhys Patchell, who suffered his third concussion in 12 months. He was hurt tackling CJ Stander in the buildup to Ireland's first try in the 21st minute.
Patchell edged Jarrod Evans this week to be the backup flyhalf to Dan Biggar in the World Cup squad. Wales doesn't leave for Japan until Wednesday. Coach Warren Gatland believed Patchell will leave with them after being assessed.
As for the game, "pleased with how we played in the first half," Gatland said. "We spoke about keeping our discipline and then gave away 10 penalties in the second half. Ireland choked us to death."
That first Irish try came against the run of play. After Rory Best's first two throw-ins were stolen, his third connected, and fullback Rob Kearney barged past Welsh backs Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny to touch down.
Patchell was replaced by Biggar, who had an immediate impact. He intercepted Sexton but Henshaw held him up on the tryline. However, Wales used the position to get Hadleigh Parkes over beside the post and they led into the break.
But only for 11 more minutes.
After Ireland lock James Ryan was held up by Jake Ball, they used scrum ball to pound the Welsh and prop Tadhg Furlong took advantage of an unfair matchup with Wales scrumhalf Tomos Williams to score.
With his team in front, captain Best came off in his last home match to a standing ovation.
Moments later, more ruck phases led to a Ryan try after a video review. Sexton, who had been kicking away a lot of hard-earned possession ball, finally missed a goalkick and came off, too.
With momentum earned, Ireland opens its World Cup campaign against Scotland on Sept. 22 in Yokohama.
After losing three of its four warmups, Wales tackles Georgia on Sept. 23 in Toyota.