Wales brought the World Cup warm-ups to an end with a disappointing defeat to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
It was the second loss in a week for Warren Gatland’s men, ending the pre-Japan games with a record of three losses and a win, but afterwards he insisted he wasn’t concerned instead focusing on peaking in time to play Georgia on the 23rd September.
The head coach had completely changed his starting XV from that which played at the Principality Stadium, mixing a number of recognised starters with players in his 31-man World Cup squad who require game time before flying out to the Far East.
That boost of senior players returning saw Wales largely take the upper hand in terms of territory during the opening 20 minutes, but some poor kicking and particularly the lack of ability to get over the gain line saw us knocked back frequently.
Attacking sets of 11 and 12 phases came and went, but in the end it was Ireland who broke the deadlock with the help of an offside penalty as they took possession to the corner.
Some hard carrying phases later and Rob Kearney escaped a Jon Davies tackle to slide over, but the hit to Wales was more than a try and a Johnny Sexton conversion, but a head injury to Rhys Patchell when making a tackle in an earlier phase.
Initially it seemed that the visitors would cope perfectly with the change at fly-half. First, Leigh Halfpenny was tackled in the air and kicked the penalty to cut the lead, before Dan Biggar intercepted well in midfield.
Unfortunately he didn’t have the speed to go all the way and was held up over the line, but a phase after the resulting scrum Hadleigh Parkes ran a perfect angle from out-to-in and crashed over, taking the referee out with him.
Halfpenny converted to give Wales a 7-10 half-time lead, but for the second week in a row the 20 minutes after the break took the wind right out of Welsh sails.
The visitors spent the best part of the first 10 minutes of the second half in their own 22 before Tadhg Furlong crashed over from close range, before returning a few minutes later and the TMO ruling James Ryan had done enough to score a third try on the day. Sexton added one conversion for a 19-10 scoreline.
Unlike the week before there was no sign of any comeback from Wales, who continued to play with their backs to the wall defensively, Biggar eventually seeing yellow for one infringement too many close to the try line.
There will no doubt be some grumblings from the Welsh camp about being on the wrong end of a number of penalty decisions, and legitimately so as Mathieu Raynal appeared incapable of doing anything other than penalising the away side at times.
However, when push comes to shove a team that is so badly out-muscled, especially when ball carrying, does not deserve to come away from any game with a result to show for it, and that’s what happened to Wales on Saturday.
Still, nobody ever won or lost a World Cup two weeks before it started, and with no serious injuries the squad can now focus on peaking at just the perfect time, with the first pool game against Georgia now very close indeed.
Don’t write Wales off just yet!