Cian Healy was forced off with a worrying injury. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
battle of bayonne

Ireland limp to win over Samoa amid injury concern for Healy

Andy Farrell’s men turned around a half-time deficit to beat an impressive Samoan outfit.

Ireland 17

Samoa 13

LET THIS BE the last time Ireland come to Bayonne before the World Cup.

There were no punches thrown this time but it was another deflating experience as Andy Farrell’s side delivered an unusually poor performance that lacked their characteristic precision and focus. Perhaps tomorrow’s World Cup squad naming played on minds.

More alarmingly, there was the sight of Cian Healy being carried off by two of the Irish medics in severe pain after a scrum collapsed onto him after just 20 minutes. He was soon seen on crutches with a moon boot on his right leg. It looked like a bad injury at the time and so, there are clear concerns about Healy’s involvement in his fourth World Cup.

There was an apparent shoulder injury for fullback Jimmy O’Brien, having been replaced against Italy for the same reason, while wing Keith Earls was ruled out before the game even started with what Ireland say is a minor injury niggle.

Jacob Stockdale started in Earls’ place but ended up being forced off injured himself in the second half, meaning Garry Ringrose finished the game on the left wing. Robbie Henshaw managed to complete the 80 minutes but appeared to be in pain and had his right ankle strapped.

The pre-match atmosphere at the cracking Stade Jean Dauger was buoyant – the locals were clearly out for Samoa to win – but the persistent rain meant handling was going to be difficult and so it proved in an error-strewn Irish display.

conor-murray-celebrates-scoring-their-second-try-with-jack-crowley-rob-herring-and-jacob-stockdale Ireland turned around a half-time deficit. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Samoa deserve major credit for their showing and they will go into Pool D with ambitions of upsetting England, Argentina, and Japan. They’re a well-coached unit and their scrum power was particularly outstanding against Ireland.

In fairness, Ireland boss Andy Farrell wanted a tougher test here than was the case in the previous two warm-up games against Italy and England.

He’s sure to have welcomed his team being put under such intense pressure and coming through with their 13th consecutive victory. It’s a new record for Ireland and there’s nothing like winning momentum.

Ireland improved in the final quarter as their bench made a difference, most notably the excellent replacement hooker Rob Herring and lock James Ryan. Second-half tries from Herring and Conor Murray built on fullback O’Brien’s first-half effort as Ireland turned around a 10-7 half-time deficit in the wet weather.

The final whistle was met with some relief and Ireland will be happy to get home tomorrow before Farrell finally names his 33-man group at 4.30pm back in Dublin. It wasn’t the perfect end to pre-season but Ireland know they don’t need to be peaking now. Their hope is that they’ll be able to find the extra gears in France.

ryan-baird-with-jonathan-taumateine Ryan Baird is tackled by Jonathan Taumateine. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The slippery ball was evident from the opening exchanges and an O’Brien knock-on gave Samoa an early attacking scrum, from which Conor Murray and Stuart McCloskey needed to scramble to force right wing Ed Fidow into touch in the right corner.

Ireland responded well to that warning as a huge carry from Caelan Doris gave them momentum off a lineout before Stockdale competed under a Murray box kick and the lively Ryan Baird won the loose ball on the ground. Out-half Jack Crowley cleverly cross-kicked to the right, where Mack Hansen gathered on the bounce, drew his man, and passed back inside for O’Brien to finish a slick ninth-minute try.

Crowley converted for a 7-0 lead but Ireland didn’t settle into their usual rhythm from there, struggling to hold onto the ball as the handling mistakes piled up, giving up some sloppy penalties, and struggling at the set-piece.

Healy’s injury came at one dominant Samoan scrum just after the quarter mark and his replacement, Jeremy Loughman, had a tough time against Samoa tighthead Paul Alo-Emile too as Ireland conceded three scrum penalties in the opening half.

Their lineout was just as concerning, with some costly losses in that department. Samoa picked them off five metres out from the tryline in the 34th minute and at the very next lineout, Ireland seemed to muddle their call as Baird was missing a back lifter.

Ireland regathered themselves to attack into the Samoan 22 but McCloskey attempted a pass down the left-hand side that collided with Samoa fullback Duncan Paia’aua’s head as he closed up in defence. Paia’aua gleefully reeled the ball in on the bounce and scorched clear for a 75-metre intercept try that Lima Sopoaga converted.

jimmy-obrien-scores-their-first-try-despite-uj-seuteni Jimmy O'Brien scored Ireland's first-half try. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Two more Irish knock-ons from Murray and O’Brien gave Samoa access into Irish territory just before the break and one of those big scrum penalties allowed Sopoaga to slot three points with the clock in the red.

10-7 to the good, Samoa picked up where they left off upon the resumption, as did Ireland. A knock-on from Baird off a forced Tadhg Beirne pass coming out of the Irish 22 invited Samoa back onto the front foot and they earned a penalty under the posts, Ireland failing to roll away, that Sopoaga knocked over.

Ireland needed to find something and a clean lineout win after the introduction of Herring was a good start, before Ireland struck from the maul, swinging into the shortside where Stockdale chipped ahead in brilliant, classic fashion and Murray won the race to ground the ball for a fine try. Crowley couldn’t convert and Ireland trailed 13-12.

Baird soon had a lineout steal but Samoa kept playing, cutting through the Irish midfield in the 55th minute only to lose the ball with the tryline in sight. Their next act was a thrilling breakout from their own 22, where Taleni Seu beat Stockdale and sent lock Theo McFarland surging into the Irish half. Again, there was no end product as they spilled.

Ireland managed to get on top of the ensuing scrum for a big penalty win and they were soon down the other end putting together a superb maul that snaked its way over, the impressive Herring dotting down. Crowley’s conversion attempt was charged down by Jonathan Taumateine but Ireland were in front at 17-13 with 15 minutes left.

conor-murray-scores-their-second-try Conor Murray dots down for Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Irish maul was in the mood now and soon did more damage in the Samoan 22 just before impactful replacement lock James Ryan was held up over the tryline as the Irish forwards attempted to hammer their way over for a fourth try.

Samoa clung on amid the vocal support of the Bayonne crowd and they finished the game back down in Irish territory as the sloppy penalties returned in worrying fashion.

In the 79th minute, Samoa had a five-metre lineout and a chance to win the game.

Ireland needed a huge play and it was James Ryan who delivered it with a lineout steal at the front. Hansen blasted the ball away and that was that. The local fans booed the Irish win.

If we’re coming back to Bayonne, hopefully it’s just for a holiday next time.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Jimmy O’Brien, Conor Murray, Rob Herring

Conversions: Jack Crowley [1 from 3]

Samoa scorers:

Tries: Duncan Paia’aua

Conversions: Lima Sopoaga [1 from 1]

Penalties: Lima Sopoaga [2 from 2]

IRELAND: Jimmy O’Brien (Ross Byrne ’53); Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale (Garry Ringrose ’64); Jack Crowley, Conor Murray (Craig Casey ’72); Cian Healy (Jeremy Loughman ’21), Tom Stewart (Rob Herring ’51), Finlay Bealham (Tom O’Toole ’62); Iain Henderson (captain) (James Ryan ’60), Tadhg Beirne; Ryan Baird  (Peter O’Mahony ’60), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

SAMOA: Duncan Paia’aua; Ed Fidow (Neria Foma’i ’51), Ulupano Seuteni, Tumua Manu, Nigel Ah Wong; Lima Sopoaga, Jonathan Taumateine (Ereatara Enari ’68); James Lay (Jordan Lay ’63), Seilala Lam (Sama Malolo ’51), Paul Alo-Emile (Michael Ala’alatoa ’47); Chris Vui (captain) (Jordan Taufua ‘HT), Theo McFarland; Taleni Seu, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua (Miracle Faiʻilagi ’63).

Replacement not used: Christian Leali’ifano

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].

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