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Baloucoune wonder try sparks Ireland to life as they put 71 points on USA

Ronan Kelleher scored four tries – equaling the Irish record for most tries scored in a single game – as Ireland defeated the USA in the Aviva Stadium this evening.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO


USA 10

Garry Doyle reports from the Aviva

THERE IS ALWAYS something special about being there on the day a young player strides into the middle of an arena and proclaims: ‘I’ve arrived.’

It happened tonight just after half past seven when Robert Baloucoune started his run on the half-way line and ended it on the 2021 highlights reel. You won’t see a better try in Ireland this year; you’ll do well to see a better finish anywhere.

Even allowing for the opposing defence – which was shoddy – even allowing for the status of this fixture (nondescript), sometimes you just have to take your cynical hat off and applaud. This was one of those moments.

It was stunning, nothing less. The pace, the frequent change of direction, the awareness of where the space was; the sheer, bloody-minded cheek of it all, it made you forget all the sloppiness in Ireland’s play that had preceded it.

Up until that point, Ireland had made one unforced error after another; Ronan Kelleher mistiming a couple of his line-out throws; Joey Carbery putting one kick out on the full; three kickable penalties being coughed up. You wondered briefly if this was going to be one of those nights.

Then this happened. Carbery took possession in midfield and heard Baloucoune’s shout. Soon the whole rugby world would hear it as he swept downfield like the wind, initially in a northerly direction, then eastwards when he saw space open up to his right; before he briefly straightened his run again, finally gliding once more to his right, to touch down.

It changed the game. Now it probably would have changed anyway, given the respective qualities on each team, but until this moment, the US had played with purpose and direction, forsaking the chance to get a few easy points on the board by turning down kickable penalties to instead opt for the corner.

There they’d discover that Ireland’s maul defence was too strong; later, when they got under the posts, they’d cough up a turnover due to Caelan Doris’s bravery and technical excellence. Still, they were the better team for those opening 16 minutes and 39 seconds.

And then Carbery gave the ball to Baloucoune and the script changed.

robert-baloucoune-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-james-hume Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Come the 31st minute, Ireland had 31 points to their name; Kelleher following Baloucoune’s example by making a name for himself, the first of his record-equaling four tries coming from a maul.

That came on 24 minutes and by 26, there was a further Irish try, again from a maul, again with James Ryan connecting with Kelleher’s throw; Nick Timoney the eventual recipient of Ryan’s fine work, as he touched down for a debut try of his own. In total, Ireland’s maul would yield four tries, 26 points. 

After Luke Carty had landed the kick for some deserved USA points, Ireland responded with another stunning try, flashing the ball along the left, Carbery, Andrew Conway and Hugo Keenan and finally Kelleher joining in the chase. Carbery converted, the crowd of 6,000 cheered and the last 16 months of lockdowns were temporarily forgotten about.

So, 31 minutes, 31 points. Welcome to Ireland, the land of a hundred thousand welcomes (subject to terms and conditions).

The rugby was by now more than watchable, and soon it threatened to become even better; Doris knocking on in the USA 22 after Ryan Baird, Craig Casey and Keenan, again, had injected pace and skill to the attack.

All this was so much better than what we’d initially witnessed in that opening quarter.

And at the heart at all this good stuff was Carbery.

At some stage soon, Carbery has to trusted with the out-half job on a permanent basis, given that Johnny Sexton is getting on a bit, and given that the World Cup is now just a couple of years away. Given his talent, he deserves to be trusted.

That issue aside, there were other contributions worth noting from a couple of the unsung heroes, Andrew Conway and Dave Kilcoyne. Each man put in a decent shift as did captain Ryan and Craig Casey.

A special word has to go to Kelleher. It isn’t too often a hooker gets four tries. The soon-to-be Lion deserved his tally which puts him alongside Keith Wood, Denis Hickie and Brian Robinson in the Ireland record books.

He got his third from a line-out close to the US line; Ireland’s maul functioning perfectly prior to the Leinster man touching down. Carbery added his fifth conversion of the day to make it 38-3, 44 minutes played.

By 53 minutes, Harry Byrne and Paul Boyle had arrived to make their debuts just prior to US flanker, Riekert Hattingh, going off – red carded for a dangerously high tackle on Kelleher.

That put an end to any hope that things would stay respectable on the scoreboard for within three minutes of Hattingh’s sending off, Ireland had scored another couple of tries, a fourth for Kelleher, again from a maul; a first for Stuart McCloskey, again thanks to some superb play from Baloucoune, this time the winger delivering a superb pass inside.

There’d be more, Keenan getting in on the act following a smart piece of groundwork by Gavin Coombes and an even smarter kick over the top by Harry Byrne. His Leinster team mate finished that one off.

The arrival of two more debutants, Caoilin Blade and Fineen Wycherley, preceded the arrival of Coombes’ first international try, a powerful finish from close range after some slick handling by James Hume in the build up.

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The US finally got a try late on – Baska with that one – before Finlay Bealham added to their misery with Ireland’s 10th of the night. 

Ireland scorers

Tries: Baloucoune, Kelleher 4, Timoney, McCloskey, Keenan, Coombes, Bealham

Conversions: Carbery (5/5), Byrne (3/4) Adisson (1/1)

Penalties: Carbery (1/1)

USA scorers

Tries: Baska 

Conversions: Magie (1/1)

Penalties: Carty (1/1)

Ireland Hugo Keenan; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Andrew Conway (Will Addison ’41); Joey Carbery (Harry Byrne ’53), Craig Casey (Caolin Blade ’59); Dave Kilcoyne (Ed Byrne ’54), Rónan Kelleher (Dave Heffernan ’54), Tom O’Toole (Finlay Bealham ’73); Ryan Baird (Fineen Wycherley ’58), James Ryan; Caelan Doris, Nick Timoney (Paul Boyle ’53), Gavin Coombes.

USA: Mike Te’o; Christian Dyer (Will Magie ’64), Calvin Whiting, Bryce Campbell, Mika Kruse; Luke Carty (Andrew Guerra ’73), Ruben de Haas (Mike Baska ’59); David Ainu’u (Matt Harmon ’67), Joe Taufete’e (Kapeli Pifeleti ’47), Paul Mullen (Dino Waldren ’58); Gregory Peterson (Nate Brakeley ’41), Nick Civetta; Hanco Germishuys (Psalm Wooching ’65), Riekert Hattingh, Cam Dolan

Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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