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Class of Conway and Carbery help stuttering Ireland edge past Fiji

An experimental selection from Joe Schmidt was put under intense scrutiny by a fantastic array of Fijian talent.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland  23

Fiji 20

Sean Farrell reports from Aviva Stadium

A RAFT OF changes and all the seams were on display.

A week on from systematically dismantling South Africa, a much-altered Ireland side couldn’t find a way to burn off Fiji, ultimately needing two late cool penalties from Ian Keatley to secure victory.

Joe Schmidt’s men had promised a much more clear-cut, less nerve-jangling, win for the coach as tries from Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kearney and Jack Conan helped them open up a 17 – 3 lead in the first half before the error count began to bite back.

Starting his first match at out-half this season, Carbery showed flashes of utter brilliance, particularly with ball in hand where his footwork made him a frustratingly evasive target for defenders.

That was never more true than in the seventh minute when he shaped to pass, and as prop Campese Ma’afu set his feet, Carbery stepped inside and veered back towards the outside where he flung a perfect pass to gift Sweetnam a first international try.

Exceptional, eye-catching talent comes with its costs however. And mere minutes after Carbery ghosted through the Fijian line, Jale Vatabua made up for the previous absence of contact with a thunderous hit on the 22-year-old 10 as he flicked a pass wide in his own 22.

It was a rattle, but the Athy playmaker dusted himself down and stepped back up to re-take the wheel.

Timoci Nagusa is tackled by  Andrew Conway Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

While Carbery looked utterly comfortable on this stage and with his role, many around him were slightly over-eager to impress or too quickly sucked into the infectious Fijian spirit. The visiting back row of Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Nemani Nagusa and Akapusi Qera created carnage in front of Kieran Marmion and the scrum-half creaked under that pressure as much as his back row.

A certain level of disjointedness was to be expected though, given the 13 changes from last weekend, the first starts awarded to Sweetnam, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter with second starts for Ultan DIllane and Stuart McCloskey.

The latter took a back seat to his centre partner Chris Farrell in the early stages, but come the 23rd minute the Bangor Bulldozer was all revved up, carrying over the gainline in the Fiji 22 and bouncing back up into the line to link Andrew Conway, whose nice balance of speed and a delayed pass to Dave Kearney made the try a gift for the Leinster wing.

The 10 -3 advantage was a calming influence for the hosts and soon Jack Conan was able to run in a 40 metre try to capitalise on a Manasa Saulo spill.

Missing his first two conversion attempts were small black marks against an otherwise uplifting Carbery display, but he didn’t let the half fizzle out without another little touch of magic – another fool-making step and a sublime offload into the arms of McCloskey before the cavalry was penalised in the ruck.

Unfortunately for the Mexican Waving Irish supporters, there was a force of nature in white who still had to have his say in the first 40 and the last play of the first half was the best one. Nemani Nadolo raided down the left wing, grubbered beyond Sweetnam rather than crashing through, gathered and hung up an offload for TImisoara Saracens scrum-half Henry Seniloli to take over under the posts.

17 – 3 to Ireland on 35 minutes, 17 – 10 at half-time. And, by the 46th minute 17 – 17; Kearney the guilty party on this occasion as a long pass was easily telegraphed by Montpellier flyer Timoci Nagusa and he took the interception home.

The score remained deadlocked until 14 minutes from time despite the best efforts of a joyous Fiji attack and the invention of Conway.

Joey Carbery leaves the field with an injury Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The fullback didn’t need to be asked to take some creative matters into his hands after Carbery was taken off with what appeared to be an arm injury. Slotting into that vacant out-half role, Ian Keatley nudged Ireland back into the lead with a 66th minute penalty.

The Mexican Waves of the first half were long quelled now, there was a nervy contest to be played out and steely resolve was demanded of Ben Volavola and then Keatley again as he slotted a penalty between the posts on 73 minutes to deny these fantastic Fijians a first ever win over Ireland.

Scorers

Ireland

Tries: D Sweetnam, D Kearney, J Conan

Conversions: J Carbery (1/3)

Penalties: I Keatley (2/2)

Fiji

Tries: H Seniloli, T Nagusa

Conversions: B Volavola (2/2)

Penalties: B Volavola (2/2)

IRELAND: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell (RObbie Henshaw ’64), Stuart McCloskey, Dave Kearney; Joey Carbery (Ian Keatley ’64), Kieran Marmion (Luke McGrath ’78); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’55), Rob Herring (James Tracy ’55), Andrew Porter (Tadhg Furlong ’55), Ultan Dillane, Devin Toner (Kieran Treadwell ’64), Rhys Ruddock (CJ Stander ’61), Jordi Murphy, Jack Conan.

FIJI: Kini Murimurivalu; Timoci Nagusa (Vereniki Goneva ’59), Jale Vatubua, Levani Botia, Nemani Nadolo; Ben Volavola, Henry Seniloli (Niko Matawalu ’48); Campese Ma’afu (Peni Ravai ’57), Tuapati Talemaitoga (Sunia Koto ’69), Manasa Saulo (Kalivati Tawake ’58); Apisalome Ratuniyarawa (Sikeli Nabou ’69), Leone Nakarawa, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Akapusi Qera, Nemani Nagusa.

Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)

Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Alexandre Ruiz (France)

TMO: David Grashoff (England)

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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