a win is a win
A valuable learning curve, Carbery's class and more talking points from the Aviva
Plus, Conway and Keatley stake their claim.

Ryan Bailey and Sean Farrell report from the Aviva Stadium

IRELAND RECORDED THEIR second win of the November series after seeing off Fiji at the Aviva Stadium this evening. Here is our match report, and below we take a closer look at the Irish performance.

Ian Keatley with Cian Healy after the game Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ian Keatley and Cian Healy celebrate victory. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

A valuable earning curve 

While not entirely convincing, this win, as scratchy as it was, will have taught Joe Schmidt a lot more about his squad than an emphatic romp would have. It was a revealing exercise in more ways than one.

Firstly, it was a cracking game of rugby as Fiji produced a bold and entertaining performance to push Ireland all the way and, in truth, they may have been a little unlucky to come out the wrong side of the result.

“Sometimes it’s just about finding a way,” Schmidt smiled afterwards.

A series of errors undermined Ireland’s efforts to gain any sort of momentum and having established a 17-3 first-half lead, a lack of composure invited the Pacific islanders back into the contest.

Ireland dominated possession and territory but devoid of cohesion — hardly surprising with so many new faces and combinations — and accuracy, were dragged into an edgy and attritional scrape from which they were lucky to emerge. Still, it was a valuable learning curve even if they failed to kick on from an encouraging start.

With 12 of the squad on five caps or less, this was an opportunity to expose inexperienced and untried players to Test level and the overall hope is that it will serve them in the long-run.

A win is a win and it’s now six on the bounce for Joe Schmidt’s side heading into the final November international against Argentina next week.

Carbery’s class 

Joey Carbery makes a break Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

It was a real shame Joey Carbery’s evening ended with him leaving the field in serious discomfort, because this was another outstanding performance from the 22-year-old.

From the moment he set this game alight with a trademark step inside and burst through the opposition defence, the Leinster out-half was the star of the show.

The way he manufactured the opening for Ireland’s first try was pure genius and while his place-kicking requires some work, he is developing into a world class talent.

“I thought that ability is coming along, that’s one of the biggest responsibilities for a ten,” Schmidt said afterwards.

“His vision is just really good too, a cross kick in the first half for Dave Kearney was pin point perfect and his kick where we thought we scored — the Andrew Conway knock on — was really well placed for us to be competitive at it.

“As for his pass to Sweetnam, I don’t think you’d see a much more accurate pass. Then there’s the threat he poses at the line himself, he asked some questions of the Fijians.”

A match-winning cameo from Keatley

Ian Keatley kicks a penalty Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The 73rd-minute angled penalty was the making and breaking of this Test match.

It’s a scenario that out-halves and goal-kickers plan, prepare for and dread in equal measure.

That Ireland ultimately nudged ahead into a decisive 23 – 23 lead is testament not only to Ian Keatley’s grace under pressure on the kicking tee, but also the experienced head he brought when called upon to take the reins after Joey Carbery’s sparkling outing ended in injury.

Jonathan Sexton will remain Ireland’s first-choice for some time to come, but Keatley continues to grow in stature and the kind of mettle he showed this evening will ensure Schmidt trusts him with a place in the squad for next weekend’s meeting with Argentina.

Conway stakes his claim again

Andrew Conway after the game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

With Simon Zebo omitted from this November window, Conway is the primary challenger to Rob Kearney’s reign at fullback.

While the Munster man is still moved around the back three, he looked supremely comfortable in the 15 jersey and the faith placed in him by Joe Schmidt.

The lack of structure in the clash with Fiji worked against him making an early impact, but he was never likely to be kept out of the game for long.

On a night when Schmidt will have been looking out for leaders, Conway stood up time and again and even took on a playmaking role of sorts after Carbery went off injured.

“Andrew was one of few to start last week too, and he is brave to a fault,” Schmidt said.

“He competes for everything in the air. His acceleration makes him a real running threat when he has time and space and I thought he threatened their try line a few times and asked a few questions of them.”

Conway’s most telling role though, was the assist for Dave Kearney’s try. Not alone did he put an injection of pace on the attack after taking Stuart McCloskey’s pass, but he followed up with an intelligent step and delayed pass to make for an easy finish for Kearney that must leave the elder brother feeling a little less certain about his place.

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Here’s how we rated Ireland in their narrow win over Fiji

Class of Conway and Carbery help stuttering Ireland edge past Fiji

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