Ireland XV 53 Fiji 0
It may be a brave new world with a bright future for Irish rugby but Declan Kidney has a familiar old problem to deal with in camp with the Ireland squad at Carton House, namely how to beat Argentina.
Whether this eight-try blanking of a demoralised and under-appreciated Fiji — Craig Gilroy administering first aid to a cramp-stricken Fijian summed up their level of support from the world game — will have proved instructive is open to debate but it is hard to see the performances of several young Test hopefuls as anything but a positive.
Taken in isolation for what it was, a non-cap friendly against tier-three opposition, Saturday night’s whitewashing was a resounding success.
All those given the opportunity, from Munster loose-head prop Dave Kilcoyne to provincial team-mate Denis Hurley at 15, acquitted themselves well. The uncapped Ulster trio of fly-half Paddy Jackson, inside centre Luke Marshall and, in particular, wing Gilroy, were superb and their provincial team-mate, the flanker Iain Henderson, looked to the manor born at blindside as Kidney mixed and matched the untested and inexperienced to cover the plethora of injuries.
Gilroy’s hat-trick of tries was the highlight, his opening effort in just the ninth minute crafted if not by Hollywood scriptwriters then by their brethren in Holywood, as Jackson fed Marshall, who side-stepped, dummied and sped to the line before passing for their team-mate to dot down.
Gilroy’s second, almost an hour later, saw Jackson off-loading to substitute Simon Zebo, who fed the wing, now operating on the left, for a try in the corner. The best though, was saved for last, as sorry Fiji were stripped of the ball under the Irish posts and Gilroy dashed 80 yards, evading two tackles, to dive under the posts at the other end.
It was almost Fijian in its execution and all well and good, as were Fergus McFadden’s two tries and one apiece from hooker Sean Cronin and Ulster midfielders Darren Cave and Marshall. But will it help Ireland defeat Argentina?
The exuberance of the youngsters in training will no doubt be amplified by the performance and may even spur older heads to dig deeper this week. An end to a six-game, five-Test losing streak stretching back to that dark St Patrick’s Day weekend at Twickenham, even if it rings a little hollow, is welcome.
And at long last Ireland have reacquainted themselves not just with winning but also scoring tries, eight of them, and each one by a player in his 20s.
Yet the bottom line is the challenge Fiji offered in Limerick bears little resemblance to the problems Argentina will pose. A powerful pack, exciting backs and a healthy dose of bad blood will make this Saturday’s Test an altogether different examination.
“It’s going to be a totally different type of game next week,” Kidney admitted. “Tonight was all about giving fellas opportunities and you saw how they went with it, but they stood up to it. They can but play who’s in front of them. That’s why I said earlier, to the question ‘could we expect to see changes?’ That’s what we’ll just have to weigh up when you look at it in the cold light of day.”
So do the young guns have a place in the shake up? Some, maybe, but not all. Kilcoyne, Henderson and tight head Michael Bent earned their first Test caps off the bench in the 16-12 defeat to South Africa and could well occupy the same positions this weekend. But will Kidney stack the bench with rookies? That is not his style and it may not prove prudent.
Would you throw Paddy Jackson on to the bench and deny the insurance of Ronan O’Gara coming in to save the day, Sexton’s injury concerns notwithstanding? It is unlikely Kidney would. Those are decisions for different days than these.
IRELAND: D Hurley (S Zebo 61); F McFadden, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, C Murray (P Marshall 61); D Kilcoyne (C Healy 46), S Cronin (R Strauss 61), M Ross (M Bent 53); D O’Callaghan, D Tuohy; I Henderson, J Muldoon (C Henry 43), J Heaslip (M McCarthy 74).
Yellow card: C Henry 64-74.
FIJI: M Talebula; S Koniferedi (S Radidi 36), V Govena, R Fatiaki (T Matanavou 41), W Votu; J Ralulu, N Matawalu (K Bola 68); J Anuyanutawa (S Somoca 69), V Veikoso (T Talemaitoga 45), D Manu; L Nakarawa (A Ratuniyarawa 45), A Naikatini; I Ratuva (V Veikoso 69), M Ravulo, N Nagusa (J Domolailai 61).
Yellow cards: T Matanavou 46-56; Talemaitoga 67-77.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales).
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