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Joe Schmidt delighted with hunger shown by fighting Irish

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Having managed to convince Warren Gatland to close the roof of the Millennium Stadium on Saturday to replicate World Cup conditions, Joe Schmidt's next challenge will be keeping a lid on expectations.

The coach must have needed a whole packet of paracetamol to deal with the number of headaches his players left him with as they hit the ground at pace and ran right over a terrible Wales side.

The news that the victory had sent Ireland to new heights on the World Rugby rankings table won't have done him any good either. Only the All Blacks sit above the European champions now and their defeat to Australia showed their humanity.

The only real blot on the copybook for Ireland was the serious injury suffered by Tommy O'Donnell.

The concern for the players is that Wales' effort was so bad that it might count against them when Schmidt reviews the tape.

Tries don't usually come this easy in international rugby as all five saw Irish players cross the line unimpeded. The excellent Jamie Heaslip led the charge, with Darren Cave and Felix Jones following suit before half-time, and Simon Zebo and Felix Jones crossing after the break.

This didn't feel like a second string performance and the hope is that, as frontline players are re-introduced, the standard set on Saturday will be matched and surpassed as the tournament approaches.

"It's just about building from here," Schmidt said.

"It's nice to be sharp but we don't want to peak too soon. We want to make sure we keep getting little gains over the next four to six weeks leading into that first match because I do think we have to be good right from the start."

This was all about opportunity, with the starting XV and Zebo - introduced early for an injured Andrew Trimble - all tearing into their task.

They can thank some of the safer members of the squad for their commitment to the cause, starting with the skipper Heaslip, who was the best player on the pitch, and the 50-cap Mike Ross who was a dominant presence.

That allowed the backs to thrive, with Paddy Jackson showing some nice touches that were undermined by an erratic day off the tee, and the centres working well.

It amounted to a hugely satisfying first-half performance, with Cave and Keith Earls brimming with threat and quick ball allowing Heaslip to open the scoring, before a dominant scrum created space for Cave to cross.

Perhaps the highlight of the half was Trimble's monstrous tackle on Eli Walker from which Earls pounced to cap his return with a try, but while Schmidt was upbeat about the Ulster winger's injury, the fact it's another foot problem must be a concern.

Gatland's (right) Wales hit back with a well-worked Richard Hibbard try that exposed Ireland's lack of numbers at the front of the line-out.

Zebo grabbed a fourth try after some good work from Heaslip before the winger threw a sensational double-skip pass for Jones to score. Schmidt was impressed with the execution, even if the idea was a little risky.

As the bench emptied, Ireland's attention wavered and the coach wasn't happy with the two tries given up in the last 10 minutes and the lack of discipline encapsulated by Chris Henry's yellow card.

Justin Tipuric's effort was a fine team try, while Ireland looked to have been spooked by O'Donnell's harrowing injury when Alex Cuthbert scored at the death.

By that stage, the large Cardiff crowd had started drifting and the coaches began to think about what impact the day would have on their selections.

"That's a good question," Schmidt said when asked if anyone had changed his mind. "People change my mind when I've had a really good look at the footage. I get an impression of how guys are going... there were a few guys who confirmed they are hoping to make my decisions difficult and that is exactly what you want."

Belfast Telegraph


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