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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 19 January, 2020
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If you’re about to spend your Sunday morning worshipping at the church of international rugby union, why not go the whole hog and share your hopes and fears for the men in green online.

To make your voice heard, e-mail Conor@thescore.ie, tweet us @thescore_iefind us on Facebook, or leave a comment below.

A little mood music to get us underway…

… probably not the ideal soundtrack to a reading of Enda Kenny’s official message of encouragement, mind.

The team sheets read as follows:

Ireland– Murphy, Bowe, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Earls, Sexton, Murray; Court, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ferris, Jennings, Heaslip.

USA– Scully, Ngwenya, Emerick, Suniula, Paterson, Suniula, Petri; MacDonald, Thiel, Pittman, Van Der Giessen, Smith, Stanfill, Clever, Johnson.

There’s some disagreement in the studio as to whether or not the United States will be at their best today. Will they be buoyed by the emotional resonance of the day and the occasion, or will it provoke a catastophic loss of focus? If it’s the former, Ireland will have to be wary.

A moment of silence to remember a number of rugby players killed on 9/11 is succeeded by “Ireland’s Call” and a typically stirring rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner”.

It’s a wet and windy evening in New Plymouth; BOD and the lads should feel right at home.

Sexton gets us underway and, after Ireland secure possession from a return kick, attempts an ambitious cross-field effort to Tommy Bowe. The ball is fumbled out of play.

… and we have our first scrum reset of the match.

Ireland demolish the USA scrum and rampage their way to a ten-metre gain and a penalty inside the right touchline. Murray looks about, eager to take the quick ball, but he’s immediately reined in. Jonathan Sexton steps up to take the penalty, which he puts wide.

New Zealand’s relatively exposed stadia are wreaking havoc with the kicking statistics.

Some impressive handling from Ireland in the middle of the park clears the way for Keith Earls to break the American defensive line. Looking left while Heaslip sat on his right shoulder, the Munster man runs into a brick wall, losing the ball in the process.

More pressure leaves Ireland with a lineout a couple of yards short of the American line. Though they look dangerous, moving the ball at speed through the hands of backs and forwards alike, a serious of committed defensive challenges allow the Americans to relieve the pressure.

Some persistent infringement from the USA at the breakdown gifts Ireland a penalty, leaving Sexton with a kick directly in front of the posts, about 30 metres out. He pushes it wide and to the right.

The US manage to use a scrum around the halfway line as a platform to attack Ireland and a speculative kick over the top very nearly bounces into the arms of an onrushing Ngwenya. Major defensive embarrassment averted.

A clever dummy from Murray breaks the American line and forces a panicked Clever to interfere at the breakdown.

Sexton finally makes a kick!

Ireland 3 – 0 USA

An impressive kick into the right corner by Petri leaves Ireland with a lineout a few metres short of their line. Though they win the set-piece, an American intercept leads to a string of passes across the field. The pressure forces Ireland to concede a penalty, but Paterson’s effort isn’t even close.

The USA look frantic in possession, with a huge number of handling errors and a lack of discipline hampering their efforts. Their commitment at the breakdown, however, is keeping Ireland at bay.

Petri attempts a grubber kick down the left wing, but Geordan Murphy shepherds the ball out of play.

Ireland secure quick ball from the back of a lineout inside their own half, but after taking the ball through a couple of phases, Sexton opts to kick the ball away.

Another lineout finds Ireland more willing to keep the ball in hand. Rolling gently from one side of the pitch to the other, Ireland move through the phases.

Twice in the space of a minute, Ireland squander try-scoring opportunities by losing the ball forward in possession. Deeply frustrating.

Todd Clever, who looks like he could have played drums in an Eighties hair metal act, is putting in a fantastic shift at flanker for the USA.

Geordan Murphy falters under the high ball and, after it slips through his grasp, can only watch helplessly as it trickles out of play. Though Heaslip kicks it clear at the tail of the subsequent lineout, a horrible attempted pass from Murray presents the USA with another set piece.

Donal Lenihan is reminiscing about Ireland’s 2007 opener against Namibia now… Oh dear.

Ireland are growing increasingly frustrated. Trying to force an outcome, Sexton launches another cross-field kick for Tommy Bowe to chase. Struggling to make up the ground, the winger fumbles the ball out of play.

It’s only a matter of time until Ireland’s physicality begins to take its toll on the USA, but an attritional victory would offer cold comfort to the Irish squad and coaching staff.

TRY! Another visit to the American 22 sees Ireland confronted with a mammoth defensive effort, but seemingly out of nothing, Tommy Bowe manufactures a yard in midfield and, lengthening his stride, runs the ball in under the right post.

Sexton makes no mistake with the conversion. The try isn’t met with a cheer as much as an audible sigh of relief.

Ireland 10 – 0 USA

HALF-TIME: A distinctly underwhelming performance from Ireland, who in spite of dominating the set pieces, struggled to offer any sort of consistent threat going forward.

George Hook: “This is the Rugby World Cup! This is a shambles!”

He’s like the father you can never please, no matter how hard you try.

Suniula gets us underway in the second half. Reddan, Trimble and O’Gara are warming up on the sideline.

Ireland demolish another scrum about ten metres inside the American half. Sexton opts for the shot at goal and, after a couple of deep breaths, sends another kick wide of the posts.

Ireland collect the ball from the restart, giving Sexton the opportunity to kick to the corner. His effort, a feeble one, finds the arms of one of the Suniula brothers, who hoofs the ball up the line.

Todd Clever is deemed guilty of more interference on the deck and Sexton finds himself with another penalty opportunity… that he sends looping wide of the left post.

The No10 has converted one of five attempts on goal.

Ireland find themselves inside the American half again, but struggle to maintain their composure at the breakdown, allowing the United States to force a turnover.

This is horrific stuff.

The USA are growing more confident in possession, taking the ball into contact aggressively and looking to bring their back line into the game.

After an American kick to the right corner(!), Murray and Sexton are withdrawn.

The United States are content to pick-and-go through the phases inside the Irish 22. In contrast to their manic spells during the first half, they’re beginning to look more and more assured with the ball in hand.

Craig Joubert awards a penalty to the United States. Paterson opts for a kick at goal and hauls his side within seven points of Ireland.

Ireland 10 – 3 USA

Sensibly, Ireland opt for a rolling maul after claiming possession from the restart. As it wheels about towards the blind side, Best breaks from the pack and, ball in hand, bundles over for Ireland’s second TRY!

O’Gara’s conversion attempt misses the right post by a considerable distance.

Ireland 15 – 3 USA

Malifa replaces Roland Suniula at fly-half…

… immediately after which Ireland score their third TRY! Receiving quick ball (for the first time in the match), the Irish backs hit a stretched American defensive perimeter at pace. O’Driscoll secures the break on the left wing, before dragging a couple of defenders in and releasing Tommy Bowe on his inside for a routine finish.

O’Gara converts for a full, seven-point return.

Ireland 22 – 3 USA

Jerry Flannery replaces Best at hooker and makes an immediate impact at the tail of rolling maul.

Denis Leamy is on, replacing Shane Jennings at flanker.

Tony Buckley– the heaviest player competing in the tournament!– takes Tom Court’s place in the front row.

Tommy Bowe proves that Ireland still can’t gather a high ball, but no matter: game is beginning to open up as the American defensive effort falters.

Keith Earls will move to fullback as Geordan Murphy makes way for Andrew Trimble.

A commenter asks:

“Does the ball spin differently in the Southern Hemisphere? Is that why Sexton kicked so poorly?”

A pass to no one from Reddan leaves Bowe and O’Driscoll in a panicked scramble to outrun a wave of onrushing Americans. Disaster is safely averted, but the incident serves to underscore the fragility at the heart of the Irish effort.

After dominating yet another scrum, Ireland are awarded a penalty that O’Gara duly dispatches to the corner.

The resulting lineout yields a rolling maul that’s stopped a metre short of the American line. As the referee brings the ball back for a previous infraction, Ferris appears to throw a punch…but gets away with it.

In a word: phew.

Ireland have three minutes in which to secure the bonus point.

Ireland have a lineout inside the American 22. It’s gathered by O’Connell, around whom the forwards mass to form a rolling maul, but it’s going nowhere. Reddan spins the ball out to O’Gara, who chips it over the top for Keith Earls, but he doesn’t get the bounce.

Disaster! Streaming forward in search of a fourth try, a lazy pass from Gordon D’Arcy allows Paul Emerick to score the easiest of intercept tries.

It’s run in directly under the posts, making the conversion a formality.

Ireland 22 – 10 USA

FULL-TIME: It’s all over.

George Hook is calling this “a very sad day for Irish rugby.”

There’s little I can add to what was, in essence, a tactically confused and deeply inept performance from the men in green. The United States– a team without a scrum, an genuine try threat and a fly-half capable of kicking effectively– managed to finish the game within two scores of Ireland


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