Wales edge Ireland out in bruising World Cup warm-up

After being blown away by the Six Nations champions in Cardiff three weeks ago when vastly different teams appeared, Wales looked sharper early on and Leigh Halfpenny booted them into the lead just before 20 minutes with a well-struck penalty.

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While Ireland will ease their way into the tournament with opening games against Canada and Romania, Wales started like a team who know they must hit the ground running in a group with England and Australia and man-of-the-match Justin Tipuric drove over for a deserved opening try.

The initially rusty Jonathan Sexton, featuring for the first time in the series of warm-ups alongside Robbie Henshaw, Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray, trimmed the advantage with a penalty before Ireland somehow found themselves level at the break.

Wales just needed to win a five-metre scrum to comfortably take their lead into the second half but were shoved backwards by an impressive second-string Irish front row and two tapped penalties later, Iain Henderson knocked three defenders backwards to bulldoze his way over the line.

Henderson, 23, was Ireland’s standout performer in defence and attack, outshining second-row partner Paul O’Connell in his last home game before international retirement, and he could well have forced his way into the World Cup XV.

Wales handed a debut to prop Tomas Francis and were without captain Sam Warburton but otherwise could field the same team against England on Sept. 26 with George North getting through his first game since suffering concussion in March.

With squads to be named by Monday, Irish winger Dave Kearney, who was part of the 2014 Six Nations-winning team before missing out on last year’s defence through injury, looked sharp in the most competitive position, as did the versatile Keith Earls.

Ireland were better in a bruising second half in which Welsh centre Jamie Roberts and Earls both departed injured — Earls’s looked the more serious — before Wales nicked back ahead with two Halfpenny penalties after the hour.

But just as they did at the end of the first half, Wales gave up possession at their own set piece — this time a lineout — and had to survive a wave of Irish attacks and Sean Cronin was held up over the line with the last play of the game.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)