Rugby World Cup warm-up
Jamie Heaslip shines as James Hook falters - 3 up, 3 down from Wales-Ireland
Tom Hamilton
August 8, 2015

CARDIFF, Wales -- In the grand scheme of things, Ireland's 35-21 win over Wales was one to judge those on the fringes of the squad and will mean little come the first hit of the Rugby World Cup.

However, coaches Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland will have learnt more about just who should be in their final reckoning when looking at cutting their existing squads down to the final 31 for the tournament proper next month.

We pick out three players whose chances improved of making the final cut under the roof in Cardiff, as well as three more whose hopes are looking bleaker.

THREE UP

© David Rogers/Getty Images

Keith Earls, Ireland

It was Earls and Donnacha Ryan's first Test matches since March 2013 and neither looked off the pace. Ryan lasted 49 minutes while Earls lasted 18 more. During the Six Nations it was Jared Payne who had possession of the No.13 shirt but Earls gave Joe Schmidt a timely reminder of his ability. He got their third try as he profited from Andrew Trimble's sizeable hit on Eli Walker and also put in a big tackle on Dominic Day in the second 40.

Jamie Heaslip, Ireland

The Ireland captain had an all-action game and was a class apart in a match played largely by those on the fringes of their respective first-choice side. Heaslip bossed the back of the Irish pack and was a constant menace both in the loose and in the close quarters. His try got the scoreboard ticking and also made 32 metres with ball in hand. While his World Cup place is already assured - he is one of the premier No.8s in the game - this reinforced just how key a player he will be for Ireland in the months to come.

Justin Tipuric, Wales

In a match where Wales were on the backfoot throughout, Tipuric was their best player. Richard Hibbard also shone through the gloom, but Tipuric's 18 tackles helped keep Ireland at bay and he also finished off a wonderful sweeping move for their second try. With Australia fielding two genuine opensides earlier in the day against the All Blacks with such success, coach Gatland may be tempted to adopt a similar school of thought with Tipuric alongside Sam Warburton in one of their next warm-up games.

THREE DOWN

© Stu Forster/Getty Images

Tommy O'Donnell, Ireland

World Cup warm-ups can be cruel for Munster opensides. In 2011, David Wallace saw his World Cup dreams evaporate when he was on the wrong end of a big hit from Manu Tuilagi. O'Donnell, the current incumbent of that same No.7 shirt, looked devastated as he was stretchered off at the Millennium Stadium. He played well at openside, putting in 15 tackles - he had to with Chris Henry and Sean O'Brien also in the mix for Schmidt's final 31 - but on first glimpse, the hip injury he sustained in the final 10 minutes looked a bad one.

James Hook, Wales

It was meant to be the game where James Hook showed why he should be going head-to-head with Dan Biggar for the fly-half berth. But he never really had a chance to get going. Working behind a back-peddling pack, Hook lacked any real opportunity to put his stamp on the game. While he had an impressive season at Gloucester, he has been on the fringes of the Wales team in recent times and at present it looks like both Rhys Priestland and Biggar will be ahead of him come the World Cup cuts.

Eli Walker, Wales

World Cup decisions can come down to tight calls. Taking chances in pressure situations can sway a call one way or another. While Walker did little wrong in his positional play, his inability to ground the ball at the denouement of the first half could prove costly. It did not help that he had been pulverised in the build-up to Keith Earls' try 10 minutes earlier. It seems like Walker has had to wait an age for his debut - he has been so often the nearly man - but given that he had his hands on top of his head as he walked towards the tunnel at half-time, perhaps even he felt he had let an opportunity slip.

© Tom Hamilton
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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