Wales suffered defeat in their third pre-World Cup test match following a poor first half against Ireland at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Warren Gatland had taken the opportunity to look at some players who had not been able to get much, if any, game time during the England double header, with only James Davies surviving in the starting XV from the second of those matches.
Ireland also made changes to the team which had lost their encounter against England last week, trying out some new combinations, and the early exchanges looked very much like two fresh sides trying to find their feet.
It would be the visitors who clicked into gear first though, adding a level of speed and incisiveness to their attack and eventually winning the penalty when Josh Navidi using is hands on the floor, with Jack Carty kicking for three points.
Wales tried to hit straight back, and although their attack was neither as fluid or imaginative as Ireland’s, it moved through the phases well enough to earn a penalty of our own, which Jarrod Evans happily kicked for his first points in international rugby.
However, the away side were still looking incredibly dangerous with ball-in-hand, and when the home defence didn’t form up properly after kicking possession away, Dave Kilcoyne was able to break four tackles too easily and get front foot ball.
Jack Carty did brilliantly to get his hands through a tackle on the next phase, releasing Andrew Conway coming in off the right wing, who broke across the field before putting his opposite winger Jacob Stockdale over in the corner, with Carty converting.
As the game edged towards the half-hour mark Wales really struggled to get a grip of proceedings, with a slow and one-dimensional attack complimenting a myriad of handling issues in open play and at the set piece.
After Evans missed a penalty to narrow the lead to two points, one of those handling errors gave Ireland a try on a plate, as Aaron Shingler tried a miracle offload which went to ground, collected by Stockdale to cruise home from 50 metres out.
Carty missed the conversion, and a penalty with the last kick of the half, as the last 10 minutes limped by with Wales looking sharper in defence but still misfiring when going forwards.
The half-time change of Jarrod Evans departing for Rhys Patchell was seemingly unfair but not surprising, but it didn’t make any difference as the other changes saw Rob Evans and Leon Brown introduced at prop, and the scrum find itself under real pressure.
Our own put in at a defensive five-metre scrum saw Ireland awarded the penalty, before further infractions resulted in Brown departing for the sin bin not 11 minutes after he had entered the fray.
Samson Lee returned but could do nothing to sure about the set piece against a strong Irish replacement front row, and eventually referee Romain Poite headed under the posts with the scoreline now 3-22 after nearly an hour.
That seemed to finally spark Wales into life, with the introduction of Tomos Williams and Rhys Patchell at half-back adding a dynamism to the attack not seen during the first 60 minutes.
Another replacement, Jake Ball, won a turnover from the kick-off and although the first two attacks could not get over the line, eventually some good hands from Owen Watkin and Scott Williams got the ball to Owen Lane out wide who stepped inside two defenders to score on his debut.
Patchell converted beautifully, and Wales were almost back over the line five minutes later when we went to the corner from a penalty again. Elliott Dee spun off the back of the driving maul but saw the ball agonisingly knocked from his grasp as he reached for the line.
There was a moment of concern, as Andrew Conway appeared to have scored for Ireland, but the free run to the line came as a result of Bundee Aki tackling James Davies in the air and causing him to lose possession.
From the resulting penalty Wales returned to the opposition 22, and although the forwards were unable to bludgeon their way over from close range, they created enough space for the ball to be moved to Patchell who stepped past one defender and got over the line.
The conversion was successful to reduce the lead to five points, but unfortunately starting playing at the 60 minute mark meant that time was not on the home team’s side, and the full-time whistle came around too quickly.
In terms of the overall World Cup the result and performance will matter very little, but in terms of squad selection there is no doubt that the game will have clarified a few remaining questions in Warren Gatland’s mind.
Expect some different matchday 23s and a very different standard of game next week when the two teams meet again in Dublin, their last opportunities to iron out any issues before heading off to Japan.