Ireland supporters will have breathed a little easier on Saturday night following this victory at the Principality Stadium.
Joe Schmidt’s team had needed to show a serious reaction to their Twickenham trauma seven days earlier and with the intensity, execution, and verve that accompanied the opening try from Jacob Stockdale on 17 minutes of this contest under the closed roof, it was clear that the page had been turned on that awful England hammering.
Neither team was at full strength, as had been agreed by head coaches Schmidt and Warren Gatland, for whom this was the 67th and final home game after 12 years in the Wales hotseat.
Yet a much-changed Ireland team from the one which capitulated 57-15 to England showed that reports of their demise had been a little premature. Gatland had expressed his desire to “derail” Ireland’s World Cup plans and pile even more pressure on Schmidt after Eddie Jones had done his bit at Twickenham but instead, the attitude, energy, and determination to rebound was not lacking this time around.
It was far from perfect, Ireland allowing a 22-3 lead to become a five-point game in the final minutes as Wales dominated possession, but as a step forward from the England performance, it was light years ahead.
The set-piece was effective once more, with the scrum supremely dominant throughout, and the lineout back in business with Niall Scannell starting at hooker and providing a safe pair of hands before Rory Best came off the bench to settle any anxiety about the veteran’s continuing ability to lead from the front.
Ireland had missed 21 first-half tackles against England, but only four fell off Welsh ball carriers in an excellent first 40 minutes in which Jacob Stockdale scored two excellent tries to offset his defensive malaise the previous week.
The first score was superb, from full-back Will Addison’s aerial take to Dave Kilcoyne’s rampaging carry through midfield, before a scintillating break from Andrew Conway saw him weave his way from right to left to put in Stockdale with a perfectly-timed pass.
Stockdale’s second was all his own work, a good read of Aaron Shingler’s poor offload on the Wales 10-metre line, the intercept leading to a hack forward which the wing collected cleanly to finish.
There will still be concerns, not least the long periods Ireland had to defend a rousing Wales comeback in the second half once they had succumbed to a penalty try in the 57th minute, the home pack having lost replacement loosehead Leon Brown to a yellow card 11 minutes into his introduction off the bench at half time.
There were also three notable try-scoring chances that went begging but the positives outweighed the negatives and there was relief in the Irish camp that a necessary bridge had been crossed. There was now separation between them and the nightmare inflicted by England.
“It was good, we’d a bit of a point to prove after last week and it was nice to get back to scoring ways and play well,” Stockdale said.
“It was definitely a case that we let ourselves down as much as anything last week and we let an awful lot of other people down. We just wanted to make sure that we changed that.
“It didn’t all go right out there, but I thought we came out for the first half and played really well.
“There was a good energy, a good bounce about us that we haven’t seen for a while.
“We’re definitely back on the right track.”
WALES: H Amos; O Lane, S Williams, O Watkin, S Evans (J Holmes, 46); J Evans (R Patchell, h-t), A Davies (T Williams, 46); R Carré (R Evans, h-t), R Elias (E Dee, 62), S Lee (L Brown, h-t); A Beard, B Davies (J Ball, 47); A Shingler (A Wainwright, 62), J Davies (S Lee 53-62 - YC scrum replacement), J Navidi - captain.
Yellow card: L Brown 57-67.
IRELAND: W Addison (G Ringrose, 42-52 blood & 58); A Conway, C Farrell, B Aki, J Stockdale (D Kearney, h-t); J Carty, K Marmion (L McGrath, 60); D Kilcoyne (A Porter, 45 HIA), N Scannell (R Best, 52), John Ryan (T Furlong, 52); I Henderson, James Ryan (D Toner, 52); T Beirne, P O’Mahony - captain (J Murphy, 60), J Conan.
Referee: Romain Poite (France).