CARDIFF: Joe Schmidt admits he is facing some tough decisions after Ireland’s impressive 35-21 World Cup warm-up win over Wales in Cardiff.
The Irish head coach picked largely a reserve team at the Millennium Stadium but saw his men comfortably dispatch a disjointed Wales side, running in three tries in the first half and two more after the interval.
Schmidt confirmed he will start the process of trimming his World Cup squad this week before selecting players to face Scotland in Dublin in three weeks’ time.
“This is the type of headache you want as a coach,” insisted Schmidt.
“You don’t want selection decisions to be clear and obvious because people have not performed. You want it to be tough and there were a number of guys who put their hands up.
“Keith Earls was man of the match, Donnacha (Ryan) got through a huge volume of work and the skipper (Jamie Heaslip) went pretty well.
“Tommy O’Donnell also did really well until his injury, he’s gone to hospital for a scan on his hip and we will know more soon. He is such a dynamic player so we have all got our fingers crossed that he is going to be ok.
“There were aspects of the game we were very happy with. The set piece gave us a good opportunity to get into the game and our defensive pressure that we put on Wales early in the game was effective.
“The only disappointing thing for me was our discipline in the second half and our defence as the game loosened up late on.
“But those are just two sides of the game and overall we are pretty happy with our performance.”
In contrast to Schmidt’s selection dilemmas, Wales’ defeat has arguably made Warren Gatland’s job easier for him with few of his second-string players producing the type of stand-out performances that will put them in the frame for World Cup selection.
Young backs Eli Walker and Hallam Amos looked sharp at times and flanker Justin Tipuric scored an excellent try but many players will be sweating over the next couple of days before Gatland makes the first cull of his squad.
“This was an opportunity for players to perform and will have huge relevance on that decision,” said Gatland.
“The challenge is working on depth in the squad and giving players the opportunity to get to a certain level and we just didn’t do well enough in the first half.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t keep the ball well enough and you cannot commit that many turnovers in a game against Ireland. We gifted them a lot of soft points.
“In fairness we played better in the second half and the boys came back and scored some good tries later on.
“We have not done much rugby until recently and the boys felt good from a conditioning point of view. But now we have got out first game under our belt, we have plenty to work and focus on over the coming weeks.”
Ireland raced into an 18-point lead at half-time thanks to three tries from Jamie Heaslip, Darren Cave and the impressive Keith Earls.
Simon Zebo and Felix Jones added further scores after the break to enhance Ireland’s credentials as one of the pre-tournament favourites for the World Cup.
Tries from Richard Hibbard, Justin Tipuric and a late score from Alex Cuthbert were rare high points for the home side.