An Irish day for their Best ended with some Welshmen fearing the worst.
Ireland signed off their summer waving a hearty goodbye to their most successful ever captain Rory Best, and their win over Wales will take them to the top of the world rankings ahead of the World Cup.
But for Wales – who took just a Hadleigh Parkes try and a penalty – it was a third defeat in four, and worse still they saw Rhys Patchell concussed and taken off just four days before they fly to Japan.
Tadhg Furlong was amongst the scorers as Ireland secured victory in their game against Wales
Wales’ Hadleigh Parkes in action with Ireland’s Bundee Aki and Josh van der Flier
Wales’ Jake Ball is challenged by Ireland’s Keith Earls as both sides prepared for the World Cup
Ireland physically dominated and scored three close-range tries through Rob Kearney, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan.
Joe Schmidt was chastened after the 57-15 hammering to England, but he leaves Dublin for the final time as Ireland coach having registered a couple of steady wins over Wales to see them travel to Japan in decent shape.
But the biggest concern is injuries, again. Keith Earls went off with a thigh injury and for Wales the Patchell removal is a worry.
This was meant to be the day that Patchell proved himself an able back-up for Dan Biggar – but after just 24 minutes the latter had to replace his understudy.
Rhys Patchell suffered his third concussion in a year as Wales were given an injury scare
Jonathan Davies of Wales combines with Hadleigh Parke to tackle Ireland’s Jordan Lamour
Poor Patchell was mown down three times in that period – his passive tackling brutally exposed twice by the bundling Bundee Aki, then by CJ Stander – and the final blow saw him felled.
Stander’s smash caught Patchell in the head, and the fly-half was trampled before Kearney went through Jonathan Davies’ desperate tackle to score Ireland’s opening try.
After the score Patchell went off for an HIA, which he failed, so Biggar had to come on much earlier than Gatland would have liked.
It is a concern for the Scarlets No 10. This was his fourth head-knock in the space of 18 months. The problems were so bad for Patchell last season that he had to consult a specialist in Birmingham when the clouds refused to lift.
Full-back Rob Kearney scores Ireland’s first try against Wales at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland’s Keith Earls attempts to escape the attention of Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny
Wales hope this latest knock is not as bad as the ones before; a head injury in 2015 wiped Patchell’s memory for two days.
With only two fly-halves in the squad, which can be tweaked if necessary up until 8pm tonight, Wales have a little wiggle room if Patchell looks unlikely to recover quickly.
Gatland is confident he will travel and played down the concerns, though.
Not that these results really matter, but in the summer Wales have gone from a team who could not lose to one that has struggled to win.
IRELAND: Kearney 8; Larmour 6, Henshaw 8, Aki 8.5, Earls 6 (Ringrose 53 6); Sexton 6.5 (Carty 64 6), Murray 7 (McGrath 72 6); Healy 6.5 (Kilcoyne, 41 6), Best 6 (Cronin, 53 6), Furlong 7.5 (Porter 57 7), James Ryan 8, Kleyn 6.5 (Henderson 53 6), Stander 6.5, van der Flier 7 (Ruddock 60 6), Conan 7.
WALES: Halfpenny 6 (L Williams 66 6); North 5, Jon Davies 5.5, Parkes 7, Adams 5; Patchell 4 (Biggar 24 6) T Williams 7.5 (G Davies 69 6); W Jones 7.5 (Smith 60), Dee 6 (Owens 60 6), Francis 6 (Lewis 60 6), Ball 6 (Beard 74 4), AW Jones 7, Wainwright 7, Tipuric 7, Moriarty 6 (Navidi 60 6).
Wales’ George North is tackled by Ireland’s Keith Earls during the World Cup warm-up match
Whether or not they have been shielding tactical cards close to their chest, Gatland’s guys have showed precious little attacking flair over the last month.
At least, with Georgia up first in two weeks’ time, the improvements made in the scrum were timely.
Wales took forever to register their first points of the day, despite their complete domination of the opening quarter. They enjoyed 85 per cent possession and 88 per cent territory in that period, but could not break down the green wall – where Aki and Robbie Henshaw were particularly strong bricks – and saw Leigh Halfpenny skew an early penalty.
After Patchell had gone off and Kearney scored Wales finally responded. Jordan Larmour took Halfpenny out in the air, and the full-back picked himself up and skudded over the penalty.
Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny attempts to make an impact while being pursued by Robbie Henshaw
Josh van der Flier of Ireland is tackled during the clash against Wales in Dublin
Then yet more extensive possession proved fruitful at last. Biggar intercepted on half-way and ran – as if in treacle – to the line, only to be hauled down and held up brilliantly by Henshaw and Kearney.
Now in the Irish 22 Wales bashed through several phases before Parkes decided he had had enough of watching the forwards plod away and picked a sensational short line to blast through and score between the sticks. Halfpenny’s conversion took Wales into a half-time lead.
Wales’ Ross Moriarty is tackled by Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw during an intense battle
Ireland captain Rory Best appeared in his final home Test before his retirement
It only lasted 10 minutes into the second half though – Furlong bashing over from short range to score and put Ireland back in front. However, while Sexton converted Earls lay on the half-way line injured. He had his head in his hands having hurt his left thigh and had to go off, with Garry Ringrose replacing him.
That was also when Best departed. The Aviva rose to their captain, giving him an extended ovation on his 44th and final appearance here. After the final whistle they roared him again – a deserved send-off.
James Ryan had Ireland’s third try in similar fashion to Furlong’s – although this one had to be confirmed by the TMO. Sexton missed the kick from out wide on the right, though.
In search of a fourth try Ireland camped in Wales’ 22, and when Adam Beard – barely just on for Jake Ball – dragged two mauls down illegally he was sin-binned with three minutes to play.
The Irish could not find a final try, but go to Japan top of the world. Wales will, and need to, improve out East.