WARREN Gatland won’t have too many splitting World Cup selection headaches after Wales suffered a 22-17 loss to Ireland in Cardiff.

The head coach rang the changes for the third warm-up Test, giving a raft of players a chance to climb the pecking order before he names his final 31 at 2pm tomorrow.

In truth, selection was never going to be down to 80 minutes but few players took their chance to give the management a last-gasp nudge.

There were a few notable performances – fly-half Rhys Patchell outperforming novice Jarrod Evans in the battle to be Dan Biggar’s understudy, Scott Williams outperforming Owen Watkin in midfield – but Gatland & Co return to their Vale Resort headquarters for one last selection meeting and they should be done by the time Casualty starts.

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Wales came back from 22-3 down to make it a tense(ish) finale but it was a drab game in a flat atmosphere, contrasting starkly to both encounters with England.

Now that Japan is close there seems to be more to lose than gain for both sides in the return game in Dublin.

Wales could have piled the pressure on Joe Schmidt and his team ahead of that Aviva Stadium encounter but could have no complaints about being beaten at home for the first time since New Zealand triumphed in November 2017.

They applied some pressure in the second half but on the whole were outplayed.

Ireland failed to spoil the Grand Slam party in March but they put a slight dampener on Gatland’s Cardiff farewell.

After last week’s Twickenham horror show there was a predictable reaction at Principality Stadium with the aggressive Irish back row of Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and Jack Conan especially influential along with strong-running centre Bundee Aki.

Wales failed to match that intensity – they missed 20 tackles in the first half – and suffered from a lack of snap, partly because of the new combinations and perhaps due to a lack of rugby while the first-teamers slugged it out with England.

Gatland was forced into a late change on their bench that impacted a pair of Dragons with Ross Moriarty pulling out after suffering a blow to the hip in training, meaning his Rodney Parade teammate Aaron Wainwright was forced into action as a replacement.

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Wales started sluggishly and Ireland were good value for their ninth-minute lead thanks to the right boot of fly-half Jack Carty.

The atmosphere was flat but ‘oohs’ were drawn from the crowd when former Dragons full-back Hallam Amos was on the receiving end of a crunching tackle by prop Dave Kilcoyne.

Novice fly-half Jarrod Evans levelled up after 15 minutes when Ireland failed to roll away in their 22 but the visitors were 10-3 up when wing Jacob Stockdale finished off after a terrific break through midfield by Andrew Conway, albeit the defence in the build-up left something to be desired.

Wales then endured a nightmare few minutes approaching the half hour; the score should have turned to 10-6 but instead became 15-3.

First Evans missed a routine penalty in front of the posts – Gatland had already highlighted the Cardiff Blues playmaker’s kicking as an area for improvement – and then a shocking Aaron Shingler offload resulted in Stockdale hacking on from halfway and winning the race to the line.

Ireland had a chance to stretch their lead with the final kick of a rather turgid half but Carty failed to reward a dominant scrumming effort.

That theme continued after the break and saw Dragons tighthead Leon Brown sin-binned just 11 minutes after coming on; the prop was then pictured looking glum on the big screen, perhaps knowing that his chance to put some real pressure on Tomas Francis, Dillon Lewis and Samson Lee was gone.

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The Irish scrum dominance continued and referee Romain Poite had seen enough, marching under the posts for a penalty try.

Wales had the final quarter to make the scoreboard respectable and they finally struck when pressure on the line was followed by the ball being spread right for wing Owen Lane to score on debut.

Suddenly they had some momentum and it took fine work by replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath to force a knock-on from Dragons hooker Elliot Dee as he reached for the line after peeling off a five-metre lineout drive.

Ireland thought they had the clincher when Garry Ringrose pounced on a loose ball to cross only for the TMO review to deem that Aki’s tackle on flanker James Davies, jumping to catch a ball, was illegal.

Wales made the most of that escape to close to within a score courtesy of a smart finish by Patchell and his conversion to make it 22-17.

They weren’t able to burgle the spoils but the comeback did ensure Ireland didn’t overtake them at the top of World Rugby’s rankings.

Wales: H Amos, O Lane, S Williams, O Watkin, S Evans (J Holmes 46); J Evans (R Patchell 40), A Davies (T Williams 46); R Carre (R Evans 40), R Elias (E Dee 62), S Lee (L Brown 40), A Beard, B Davies (J Ball 46), A Shingler (A Wainwright 62), J Davies (S Lee 51-62), J Navidi (captain).

Scorers: tries – O Lane, R Patchell; conversions – R Patchell (2); penalty – J Evans

Yellow card: L Brown

Ireland: W Addison (G Ringrose 42-51), A Conway, C Farrell, B Aki, J Stockdale (D Kearney 40); J Carty, K Marmion (L McGrath 59); D Kilcoyne (A Porter 45), N Scannell (R Best 51), J Ryan (T Furlong 51), I Henderson, J Ryan (D Toner 51), T Beirne, P O’Mahony (captain, J Murphy 59), J Conan.

Scorers: tries – J Stockdale (2), penalty try; conversion – J Carty; penalty – J Carty

Referee: Romain Poite (France)