One more big success would give Joe Schmidt and Rory Best the perfect Ireland send-off

Ireland celebrate the win over Wales
Ireland celebrate the win over Wales
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An industrious 19-10 victory over Wales in a packed Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon was just what the doctor ordered as Ireland look ahead to the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

After the horror show of Twickenham three weeks previously when the men in green were given a right oul trouncing by the English - a record loss - Ireland needed a response and the 22-17 victory over Wales last weekend set about building belief and confidence again.

The last of the warm-up games saw the Welsh travel across the big puddle to Dublin, with Warren Gatland hoping to do what Ireland had done to him seven days earlier, spoil his final home swansong.

And, for 20 minutes, it looked as though they might have their way.

But the Irish lifted themselves - having frustrated the Welsh in the first quarter with a strong defensive display - and produced a workmanlike performance for an hour which saw them deservedly win 19-10.

With that victory came another first - something Joe Schmidt is used to over the past 10 years.

Rory Best and Joe Schmidt after the game

Rory Best and Joe Schmidt after the game

It was fitting on his last home game in charge that Ireland leapfrogged New Zealand at the top of the World Rugby Rankings to go the World Cup as number one ranked nation.

Ireland defeated New Zealand for the first time last November at home, and only their second ever win over the All Blacks in over 100 years.

And there were at times on Saturday against the Welsh that the Irish displayed some of the grit and character which saw them defeat the All Blacks.

It had been lacking since after a disappointing Six Nations display.

A section of the crowd during the game at the Aviva Stadium as they salute Rory Best on his last game in Dublin with the Ireland side

A section of the crowd during the game at the Aviva Stadium as they salute Rory Best on his last game in Dublin with the Ireland side

The rankings, of course have been the topic of great debate recently, and not much weight will be placed on them as the countries vying for the Holy Grail of rugby, the Webb Ellis Club, get ready to do battle from September 21 in Japan.

However, for Schmidt and captain Rory Best, who on their Aviva Stadium farewells ahead of both stepping down after the World Cup, to see Ireland top of the tree was a fitting finale for both in the packed Dublin venue.

Schmidt brushed off Ireland topping the world rankings for the first time as irrelevant to the World Cup.

The 53-year-old insisted afterwards, however, that back-to-back defending champions New Zealand remain the team to beat at the World Cup.

"I didn't even realise we were number one until the post-match interview," said Schmidt.

"That's how far away from our thoughts it's been. It's a label, it's a nice label to get, and it's a nice first time that we've been in that position.”

"We have been lucky enough to tick off a few firsts with this group in the last six and a half years. But that label is not going to be relevant to anyone.

"We all know who the favourites are for the Rugby World Cup, and it's not us."

When Schmidt inherited the Irish side they were languishing at eighth in the World and hitting the pinnacle, while he has played it down, is another feather in the cap for the New Zealand native.

But the win back-to-back win over Wales and glimpses of a return to the performances which saw them go through a season unbeaten, has restored faith and confidence in what this team could achieve.

Ireland have never been beyond the quarter-finals at the World Cup and many believed 2015 would see them achieve that.

But the Argentinians returned to haunt them at the global extravaganza and dumped them out at the last eight stage.

With Scotland, Japan, Russia and Samoa in their pool, Ireland remain favourites to top it and secure a quarter-final place.

They would then either meet New Zealand or South Africa - the latter being many people’s favourites to lift the trophy this time around - which is a daunting task.

However, the reality for Ireland is, that if they can get past either one of those two in the last eight, there is every chance they could go all the way to lifting the trophy - that would be the send off of all send offs for Schmidt and Best.

No one is getting too carried away - certainly none of those within the 31-man squad and backroom staff who board the plane on Wednesday to head off to Japan - but there is still reason to remain more optimistic than there was after a limp Six Nations performance or that drubbing in Twickenham a few weeks ago.

As for captain Best, what has seemed like the longest goodbye since he announced his decision to retire from Ulster at the end of last season and international rugby at the end of the World Cup, at least was to end at the right tone in Dublin on Saturday.

In the same stadium in April he was forced off in his final European Champions Cup game for his Province against Leinster.

And in the Guinness PRO14 semi-final he captained Ulster to a disappointing loss in Glasgow.

On this occasion he went out on his terms and produced a solid display which should hopefully end the recent criticism he has received - mainly in the wake of the Twickenham loss.

He showed emotion at times during his Dublin swansong, but the Aviva Stadium stood as one to recognise his contribution to the green jersey in which he has achieved 120 caps.

The 37-year-old having recovered from two early lineout blemishes, responded with character and with tenacity to lead from the front as Ireland.

He has never lifted a trophy with his beloved Ulster, but has enjoyed silverware success with Ireland previously - there would be nothing more fitting for his career to end by lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan come November.

And irrespective of where it does end in Japan, Best can still retire on a high as being one of the most successful captains in an Irish jersey - no one can ever take that accolade away from him.