Ireland gave notice of their World Cup potential with a 19-10 win over Wales in a World Cup warm-up match in Dublin on Saturday.
The Irish gave head coach Joe Schmidt and captain Rory Best the perfect farewell to home Tests at Lansdowne Road the win putting them top of the world rankings for the first time.
Both men have overseen a purple patch in Ireland’s rugby fortunes which has seen them collect two historic wins over world champions New Zealand as well as the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam, only the third in the country’s history.
It was a real arm-wrestle, with Ireland winning the key moments out outscore their Six Nations rivals by three tries to one.
It was a scrappy start, to put it mildly – Leigh Halfpenny missing a relatively easy penalty kick at goal and Jonathan Sexton putting the restart directly into touch, all inside the opening minutes.
The quality improved as the game went on, but Ireland will take most of the confidence from the outing.
Roars drowned out Best as he stepped up to speak after the match – the terrible performance in the 57-15 thrashing by England a fortnight ago forgotten after back to back wins over the Welsh.
“I told myself I would not get emotional,” said Best, who was fighting back tears.
“It has been an unbelievable experience to play for Ireland and to go out with a performance to be proud of.
“The place [Lansdowne Road] has changed a bit since I first came here aged five!” added the 37-year-old hooker.
Schmidt, whose overall home record shows 28 wins from 34 matches with one draw and just five defeats since taking over in 2013, said it had been a privilege to coach Ireland.
“Rory has done a fantastic job,” said the 53-year-old New Zealander.
“It has been a privilege to be involved with a great bunch of guys.
“It has been a heck of a ride.”
Best – winning his 120th cap – had come under fire for his line-out throwing in the defeat at Twickenham and his early ones were not encouraging as the Irish lost their first two.
However, the Irish defence held its line well against persistent Wales attacks and when they finally gained meaningful possession they scored.
James Ryan won a line-out, Conor Murray working it quickly to Jonathan Sexton.
The flyhalf, playing his first game since June after dislocating his thumb, found Rob Kearney coming into the line and the veteran full-back burst over to touch down for his 14th try in 92 Tests.
Sexton converted for 7-0 after 22 minutes.
Worryingly for the Welsh, back-up flyhalf Rhys Patchell, who has had concussion issues, had to leave the field for an assessment after he took a blow to the head in a tackle on Christiaan Stander.
He did not return, leaving number one stand-off Dan Biggar to take over.
Leigh Halfpenny reduced the deficit to 7-3 with a penalty in the 24th minute.
Sexton looked to have found his rhythm with a couple of sublime tactical kicks although he blotted his copybook when Dan Biggar intercepted a loose pass.
Biggar took off from his own half and seemed certain to score until Kearney, a player transformed from the one who struggled against England, had the presence of mind to get his arm under the ball to prevent Biggar from touching down.
Biggar sportingly told the referee Mathieu Raynal he had not scored but the Welsh only had to wait a couple of minutes as Hadleigh Parkes went over, taking out the French referee in the process.
Halfpenny converted to put the visitors 10-7 ahead after half-an-hour.
The Irish scrum had gained the ascendancy and pinned the Welsh inside their 22 at the outset of the second half.
They were rewarded when prop Tadhg Furlong burrowed over in the 50th minute to put the Irish back ahead, Sexton’s conversion making it 14-10.
That prompted Best to leave the stage for the final time at Lansdowne Road, a rueful smile on his face as the 50,000 plus crowd rose to their feet to acclaim the most successful captain in Ireland’s history.
The Irish added a third try when Ryan managed to ground the ball despite desperate Welsh defence – Sexton failed to convert but the hosts held on comfortably to seal the match 19-10.
Man of the match: Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones produced his usual workmanlike performance, while flank Aaron Wainwright also produced an enormous workrate, especially on defence – where he made 20-odd tackles. Christiaan Stander was far more effective at No.6, a blindside in most countries, while Josh van der Flier played the openside role to equally great effect. James Ryan was also influential with his 10 carries and 10 tackles. Gary Ringrose, from the moment he came on for an injured Keith Earls in the 53rd minute, had a massive impact on Ireland’s defensive game. The real general and the player in our view that had the biggest impact was Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray – who not just directed the show, but produced some great cover defence.
Moment of the match: For Wales, there will be a concern that another flyhalf had left the field injured – Dan Biggar forced to come on for Rhys Patchell in the 24th minute. In terms of the game’s outcome, it has to be the James Ryan try on the hour mark, which took Ireland to a 19-10 lead and but the game beyond Wales.
Villain of the match: Nothing villainous in this game.
Tries: Kearney, Furlong, Ryan
Cons: Sexton 2
Yellow card: Adam Beard (Wales, 78 – repeated infringement, illegally collapsing the maul)
15 Rob Kearney, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11
Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh
van der Flier, 6 Christiaan Stander, 5 Jean Kleyn, 4 James Ryan, 3 Tadhg
Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Garry Ringrose.
15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh
Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Ross
Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones
(captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owen, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Liam Williams.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)