A hat-trick of tries from man-of-the-match Andrew Conway helped a much-changed Ireland team stake their claim to World Cup squad places next year as they swatted aside the USA at Aviva Stadium today to complete a Guinness Series clean sweep.
Following last Saturday’s historic victory over the All Blacks was always going to be a tall order as head coach Joe Schmidt used this final Test of the November window to make 14 changes and stress test his World Cup hopefuls.
Yet a sell-out crowd were still given their money’s worth on a chilly Dublin night as Ireland ran in eight tries to two.
The opening minutes were almost a carbon copy of Ireland’s first game of the November Test window when they jumped quickly out of the blocks and over the opposition tryline against Italy in Chicago.
It had been Tadhg Beirne at Soldier Field and back in Dublin it was another Munster man as wing Andrew Conway made good on his promise to get more involved than he had been against the Azzurri three weeks previously.
After just three minutes he came in off the right wing looking for work and having received the ball kept coming inside, linking well with captain Rhys Ruddock in midfield, the flanker using his pace and good hands to lay the ball back to the supporting Conway on the US 22, the wing’s pace leaving defenders for dead to opening the scoring with Joey Carbery converting.
The Eagles were not here just for an Irish lap of honour though and they drew level just nine minutes later after spending time in the home 22.
Off a lineout on their left wing, scrum-half Shaun Davies went down the blindside and passed to hooker Joe Taufete’e who barrelled through a series of tackles into the left corner to score his side’s opening try, with Will Magie adding the two points off the kicking tee.
And so it continued, Conway grabbing his second try of the night five minutes later after Iain Henderson snaffled a loose ball that had squirted out of an American ruck.
Garry Ringrose, the only starter from last week’s win over the All Blacks jinked his way to the US five-metre line and with a penalty advantage for an offside some slick hands from Niall Scannell, Beirne, and a neat pass out of the back of Will Addison’s hand found Conway in the right corner to run in from short-range.
Carbery’s conversion made it 14-7 but not for long as the USA regrouped impressively, causing problems at a lineout as Beirne was penalised for making contact with a jumper. Magie kicked for the corner and from the resulting lineout, the US maul caused Ireland problems, Henderson pulling it down short of the line and paying for his crime with a penalty try and yellow card in the 23rd minute.
Ireland edged back in front with a Carbery penalty two minutes later as the Eagles strayed offside again and while still down to 14 men were forced into a change due to an apparent injury to left wing Darren Sweetnam.
Ross Byrne came on and slotted in at fly-half, sending Carbery back to full-back with Addison switching from there to fill the wing vacancy.
The home side did not miss a beat and from a scrum in midfield strung together some fluid phase play to advance upfield.
Ringrose made a break to the line but was held up short and lost the ball trying to find support but the clearance went straight to Conway who exchanged passes with Addison and made further ground before feeding No.8 Jack Conan, who ran the ball home for his fifth Ireland try in 11 Tests.
Carbery again converted to make 24-14 and that was the lead Ireland carried into the break.
Addison failed to return for the restart, needing a Head Injury Assessment, allowing Sammy Arnold to make his Ireland debut, and then the USA lost hooker and tryscorer Taufete’e to an injury that required a stretcher and the introduction of Wexford-born Dylan Fawsitt, a third naturalised American from Ireland in the US squad alongside prop Paul Mullen and flanker John Quill.
Ireland, though, were starting to look very comfortable in all facets of the game. And as they went through the gears, the tries quickly followed.
Beirne, Stuart McCloskey and substitute lock Quinn Roux, two of them converted by Carbery, put the game beyond the Americans’ reach at 43-14 with 14 minutes to play.
A forward pass on halfway from replacement Cian Healy to Andrew Conway, denied Cooney’s replacement Luke McGrath a 71st minute try but the wing still had time to complete his hat-trick, thanks to a lightning break from Ringrose and Conway’s excellent support running.
Ringrose’s footwork left the last defender on his backside before he fed the Munster wing to run in unopposed under the posts with two minutes remaining.
Carbery’s conversion, his sixth from seven attempts brought up the 50-point mark and there was one more to add to his tally as replacement tighthead John Ryan scampered over the line on 80 minutes as Ireland rounded out the Guinness Series as they started it, firmly on the front foot.
IRELAND: W Addison (S Arnold, h-t), A Conway, G Ringrose, S McCloskey, D Sweetnam (R Byrne, 27); J Carbery, J Cooney (L McGrath, 60); D Kilcoyne (C Healy, 60), N Scannell (R Herring, 57), F Bealham (John Ryan, 47); T Beirne, I Henderson (Q Roux, 57); R Ruddock - captain, J Murphy, J Conan (J van der Flier, 66).
Yellow card: I Henderson 23-33mins
USA: W Hooley; B Scully, B Campbell, P Lasike, M Brache; W Magie, S Davies (R De Haas, 60); T Lamositele (C Wenglewski, 55), J Taufete’e (D Fawsitt, 43), P Mullen (D Waldren, 60); G Peterson (S Manoa, 67), N Civetta; J Quill (D Tameilau, 68), H Germishuys, C Dolan.
Replacements not used: G Moore, R Matyas.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)