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Saturday 21 September 2019

Move in right direction

Schmidt won't be happy with fade-out

Jack Carty was Man of the Match against Wales on Saturday
Jack Carty was Man of the Match against Wales on Saturday

Despite an indifferent 2019 season Ireland could yet be the No 1 ranked side in the world going into the World Cup - if they beat Wales next weekend in Dublin.

Ireland's win against a poor enough Welsh side on Saturday pushed New Zealand back up to the top of the pile, but another win against Wales next weekend will see history being rewritten and will see Ireland as - on paper at least - the best rugby side on the planet.

Of course nobody, including Irish coach Joe Schmidt, will gloat. In the bigger scheme of things, it means nothing and most rugby realists know that the way that Ireland have been performing in 2019 they are probably ranked about fourth just behind England, New Zealand and South Africa.

Following an embarrassing loss to England at Twickenham last weekend, Joe Schmidt will be happy enough with his team's response at the Principality Stadium on Saturday afternoon, where fellow Kiwi Warren Gatland's final home game in charge of Wales ended in a 22-17 defeat.

To say Ireland probably wanted it more is an understatement but it is a huge positive for Irelands management to work on.

In reality, at 22-3 up Ireland really should have kicked on, and to be in a position to actually lose the game won't please the pessimists but Schmidt and Ireland will take it.

If Connacht out-half Jack Carty does not make the final cut in Joe Schmidt's squad for japan, announced either this week or next, then he at least can rest knowing that he did everything to push his credentials after a Man of the Match performance in Cardiff.

If Carty goes, you would have to feel for Leinster's Ross Byrne, who although getting the start against England last week and acquitting himself pretty well in difficult situations, did not have the luxury of a forward pack moving onto the ball as Carty did.

But at this level its all about taking the limited chances you get and Carty, alongside his opposite number on Saturday Rhys Patchall, gave himself every opportunity.

Standout

Other standout performers that pushed their stock included Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki, James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale, Will Addison, Andrew Conway and Munster's slimmed down prop Dave Kilcoyne.

Of all those aforementioned players only Ryan was a certainty prior to Cardiff but in my opinion Aki played himself back onto the plane after an excellent defensive and attacking game.

Addison is also a serious option while in the engine room Kilcoyne booked his seat.

Munster's Chris Farrell had an opportunity to throw his name into the conversation but had an indifferent game. It's hard to say if the big Munster centre did enough to convince Schmidt to take another specialist midfield player.

Up front, Kilcoyne and at times Jack Conan were Ireland's most dynamic ball-carriers, while James Ryan and Iain Henderson looked comfortable together in the second row.

The jury is still out on blindside flanker Tadgh Beirne's inclusion after an industrious but not particularly dynamic performance at numer 6.

Beirne does have more bulk and height than most blindside flankers at this level but does he have the experience in the bigger games to play as a roving loose forward?

It will be a tight decision.

If he is included, it will probably come at the expense of either Jean Kleyn (poor against England) or Rhys Ruddock, the latter still waiting to be given another chance after a strong showing against Italy.

Ireland completely dominated in Cardiff for about 60 minutes of this match, and then tried their best to lose it in the end. At 22-3 up and cruising, you thought that Ireland would pull off a record win against Wales, such was their scrum dominance, and with Wales trying too hard and failing to adhere to the basics of the game.

The introduction of Scarlets out-half Patchall changed the face of the game.

Ireland began to fade and Wales suddenly looked a much different and more threatening outfit as Ireland emptied the bench with more experienced front-liners.

Momentum

Ireland held on for what was a fair result, given the performance over 80 minutes, but the momentum had changed.

On a positive note, Ireland's defence looked for the most part well organised and stout. Their lineouts were much better and Ireland's discipline was, for the most part, good.

But before we get carried away, Wales only had one player - Samson Lee - who might make a start for the first team while Ireland had plenty.

So Warren Gatland might see this as a moral victory for his side. Schmidt will park it, and be thankful of a positive performance, with bigger fish to fry.

He has, in my opinion, about 25 players booked onto the flight to Japan. The remaining half dozen is going to make his final decision difficult.

Some players may get one last chance to board that plane this weekend.

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