Autumn internationalsIreland (17) 23Tries: Sweetnam, D Kearney, Conan Cons: Carbery Pen: Keatley 2Fiji (10) 20Tries: Senioli, T Nagusa Con: Volavola 2 Pens: Volavola 2
Ireland laboured to an unconvincing sixth win in a row hanging on to beat Fiji in an autumn Test in Dublin.
Tries by Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kearney and Jack Conan put Ireland 17-3 up after 35 minutes but five minutes into the second half Fiji had drawn level.
Henry Senioli and Timoci Nagusa set up a nervous second half for the home side who were held scoreless for 32 minutes.
Ian Keatley came off the bench in a scrappy, error-ridden game and nailed two late penalties to rescue Ireland.
Ireland were hugely impressive last weekend clocking up a record 38-3 win over South Africa to kick off their autumn international series in style.
Head coach Joe Schmidt made 13 changes for this game, giving a host of fringe players the chance to impress, but both individually and collectively they failed to take the opportunity.
The intensity levels witnessed last week never materialised as fourth-ranked Ireland struggled to see off the enterprising visitors.
How did the young guns fare?
Ireland started with eight players with five caps or less, and it showed.
The lack of cohesiveness and unfamiliarity resulted in long bouts of scrappy play from both sides with the sell-out crowd at the Aviva Stadium relieving the boredom with a few rounds of Mexican waves.
Darren Sweetnam caught the eye early on and dotted down in the corner after seven minutes of his first international start following a superb break by Joey Carbery.
Andrew Conway followed up his quality display on the wing against the Springboks with another good shift at fullback and his industry allowed Dave Kearney to cross in the opposite corner.
Jack Conan’s great pick-up off his boot laces and electric pace resulted in another try – his fourth for Ireland in just five appearances.
Despite not playing well and getting sucked into a loose, unstructured game favoured by Fiji, Ireland were 17-3 ahead before the visitors had their best spell either side of the interval.
Fiji enjoy first trip to Aviva
All three of these nations previous Tests were on Irish soil but it was a first game at the Aviva Stadium for the Pacific Islanders.
Senioli scored a brilliant counter-attacking try after a thunderous run down the wing by Nemani Nadolo and Ben Volavola converted to reduce the deficit to 17-10 at the break.
Dave Kearney’s sloppy pass was intercepted by Timoci Nagusa who jogged in under the posts to set up a nervous second half for the home side.
Fiji caused Ireland problems at the breakdown and the Irish lineout also malfunctioned as the inevitable replacements disrupted Ireland’s play.
Mixed bag for Carbery
This was a performance which will have answered few questions for Schmidt regarding his support cast.
It was a golden chance for the Leinster man to cement his place in the squad as Jonny Sexton’s deputy.
The 22-year-old made his debut in the famous win over New Zealand in Chicago 12 months ago but ankle trouble ruled him out against Japan in the summer, having been injured against the United States.
If his international future is as a fly-half rather than at full-back or centre, he needed to run the show against Fiji but himself and Kieran Marmion were unable to put their stamp on proceedings.
He made one stunning line break for the opening try and pulled off several sparkling off-loads but his kicking game, both from the tee and from hand, needs improvement and sustained a hand injury which may limit his involvement against Argentina.
Ireland complete their autumn international series against the Pumas on 25 November, and the coach will probably waste little time in recalling all his first-choice players.
What they said
Fiji second row Leone Nakarawa told Sky Sports: “it was a disappointing game for us, we did not play to our strengths or our system and that resulted in the disappointing loss”.
“Things don’t end here. We are just building up this team for a better future and we will forget about this but we knocked the ball on a lot and that is a lesson we need to learn moving forward.”
Ireland XV: 15-Andrew Conway; 14-Darren Sweetnam, 13-Chris Farrell, 12-Stuart McCloskey, 11-Dave Kearney; 10-Joey Carbery, 9-Kieran Marmion; 1-Jack McGrath, 2-Rob Herring, 3-A Porter, 4-Ultan Dillane, 5-Devin Toner, 6-Rhys Ruddock (capt), 7-Jordi Murphy, 8-Jack Conan.
16-James Tracy, 17-Cian Healy, 18-Tadhg Furlong, 19-Kieran Treadwell, 20-CJ Stander, 21-Luke McGrath, 22-Ian Keatley, 23-Rob Henshaw.
Fiji XV: 15-Kini Murimurivalu; 14-Timoci Nagusa, 13-Jale Vatabua, 12-Levani Botia, 11-Nemani Nadolo; 10-Ben Volavola, 9-Henry Senioli; 1-Campese Ma’afu, 2-Tuapati Talemaitoga, 3-Manasa Saulo, 4-Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 5-Leone Nakarawa, 6-Dominiko Waqaniburoto, 7-Akapusi Qera (capt), 8-Nemani Nagusa.
16-Sunia Koto, 17-Peni Ravai, 18-Kalivati Tawake, 19-Sikeli Nabou, 20- Peceli Yato, 21-Niko Matawalu, 22-Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 23-Vereniki Goneva.