Rugby | Ireland top world rankings for first time in history

Ireland have beaten Wales 19-10 at the Aviva Stadium in Joe Schmidt’s final home game.

The win sees Ireland top the world rankings for the first time in our history.

Rory Best captained the team for the last time on Irish soil as tries from Rob Kearney, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan secured victory over Wales for the second time in as many weeks.

The Six Nations champions made the stronger start in Dublin, with Ireland losing their first two line-outs.

However, it was Ireland who opened the scoring in the 22nd minute.

Rob Kearney scored his first Test try since the 2015 World Cup after being picked out on the run by Johnny Sexton’s perfectly-timed pass, following a great carry from CJ Stander and a pass from Conor Murray.

Johnny Sexton converted to make it 7-0, and Wales lost Rhys Patchell after the fly-half suffered a head injury while tackling CJ Stander shortly afterwards.

Leigh Halfpenny scored Wales’ first points three minutes later; dusting himself down to slot over a penalty after he was fouled in the air by Jordan Larmour.

Warren Gatland’s men then took the lead when Hadleigh Parkes drove over the line from close range following a scrum in the 31st minute.

Robbie Henshaw had done superbly to stop Dan Biggar after the Welshman had intercepted Sexton’s stray pass, but his tackle was ultimately in vain as Wales made Ireland pay from the scrum. 

Halfpenny converted, and Wales led 10-7 at the interval.

Ireland’s defensive play was impressive in the first half, with Irish players forcing four turnovers from ferocious tackles, and Jen Kleyn racking up 10 tackles in the opening 40 minutes.

The hosts made a bright start to the second half, and took the lead within 11 minutes of the restart.

Furlong barrelled his way over the try line in the 51st minute after a sustained spell of Irish pressure to score his second international try.

Sexton converted to make it 14-10.

Worryingly, Keith Earls limped off with an injury.

Another excellent bout of attacking pressure from Ireland paid off in the 58th minute.

The excellent James Ryan – who would go on to be named man of the match – forced his way over the line to make it 19-10, with the try eventually being awarded after a TMO review, but Sexton missed the chance to add to Ireland’s nine point lead from the conversion.

Best – winning his 120th cap – was withdrawn to a wonderful ovation from the Irish fans inside the Aviva.

Wales lock Adam Beard was sent to the sin bin in the 77th minute as the visitors searched in vain for a way through Ireland’s stubborn defence, and Schmidt’s men held on to earn a deserved victory.

It was a fitting send off for Schmidt and Best, who were both visibly emotional after the game.

“This place has been unbelievably special for me over many, many years,” Best said.

“The support we got today has summed up the support I’ve had throughout my career here.

“I’d like to thank the boys, I’d like to thank my family and I’d just like to thank the supporters, everyone here and at home. It’s been unbelievably special to play for my country at home and abroad.”

Schmidt – who guided Ireland to 28 wins and one draw in 34 home matches – choked up during his interview.

“This place has been unbelievably special for me over many, many years,” the New Zealand native said.

“The support we got today has summed up the support I’ve had throughout my career here.

“I’d like to thank the boys, I’d like to thank my family and I’d just like to thank the supporters, everyone here and at home. It’s been unbelievably special to play for my country at home and abroad.”

2019 has been a difficult year for Ireland, but this was a welcome performance 15 days out from the opening World Cup clash against Scotland.

It was a physically dominant display from the hosts, one which was more reminiscent of 2018 than this years disappointing Six Nations campaign.

There were plenty of positive performances, with Ryan, Furlong, Aki and Henshaw among those showing signs of recapturing their best form, while Rob Kearney was brilliant at full back.

37-year-old Best got the rapturous send-off he deserved, and fittingly, Schmidt’s last home game at the helm resulted in Ireland topping the world rankings for the first time in rugby history.

Ireland: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best (capt), Tadhg Furlong; James Ryan, Jean Kleyn; CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Garry Ringrose

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams; Rhys Patchell, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee, Tomas Francis; Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones; Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams.