Ireland's experimental side sneak past Fiji

By Simon Lewis, Aviva Stadium

Ireland 23-20 Fiji

Ireland were made to work hard at the Aviva Stadium this evening as they claimed a tight win over Fiji and a second win in the Guinness series.

Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kearney and Jack Conan all went over the line for Ireland in the opening half to give them a 17-10 lead at the break.

The sides were level with 10 minutes left to play, but Ian Keatley stepped up to kick a 72nd minute penalty to give Ireland the win.

Joe Schmidt will look to go three from three next week when Argentina come to Dublin.

Key moment: It took a potentially nerve-jangling penalty from replacement fly-half Ian Keatley to separate these sides after an entertaining 72 minutes had left the scores level at 20-20. Keatley had slotted an earlier penalty moments after coming on for an injured Joey Carbery but with both kicks, he held his nerve to see Ireland home.

Talking point: Head coach Joe Schmidt knew he was taking a gamble by picking a second-string selection to face a dangerous Fijian team, ranked number nine in the world and the result will vindicate his decision. Regardless of the outcome, he had been right to send out an inexperienced side with just 188 caps between them and this team will have gained enormously from the experience.

Key man: Joey Carbery enjoyed an assured first home start at fly-half, despite missing two difficult conversions. There were moments of magic too with instinctive offloads and precision field kicking as he staked his claim as Johnny Sexton's heir apparent.

That said, the man of the match award went to full-back Andrew Conway, who continues to grow in stature at Test level, a true rival to Rob Kearney as the first-choice 15.

Ref watch: New Zealander Paul Williams enjoyed a confident and competent performance and was spot on in disallowing a first-half Ireland try for Dave Kearney having spotted a Conway knock-on in the move's initial aerial contest, confirming his hunch through the TMO. He was also correct to judge a lifted tackle by Kini Murumurivalu on Cian Healy as worthy of a penalty only, not a card.

Penalties conceded: Ireland 7 Fiji 10

Injuries: Joey Carbery's night came to a deeply disappointing end as he walked off with an arm fracture, according to Joe Schmidt but Ireland looked to be otherwise unscathed.

Next up: Ireland wrap up their Guinness Series next Saturday evening with a revenge mission against 2015 World Cup quarter-final conquerors Argentina, with Joe Schmidt expected to recall his big guns for a third successive sold-out game at the Aviva Stadium.

Full match report:

Ian Keatley's two late penalties dug Ireland out of a hole as Joe Schmidt's experimental side edged out Fiji 23-20 in Dublin.

Joe Schmidt's men squandered a 17-3 lead built up by tries from Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kearney and Jack Conan, and almost paid the price for young fly-half Joey Carbery's two missed conversions.

Ireland made 13 changes from last weekend's record 38-3 victory over South Africa, and endured some nervy moments en route to their slender win over the eye-catching Pacific Islanders.

Henry Seniloli and Timoci Nagusa claimed tries for Fiji, with Ben Volavola slotting 10 points from the tee.

But two penalties from Munster's Keatley helped Ireland tiptoe home in a clash that will hand taskmaster boss Schmidt plenty of food for thought on his fringe stars.

Leinster playmaker Carbery's attacking prowess stood out once again, but the 22-year-old must still sharpen his goal-kicking to blossom into a long-term credible starting fly-half for boss Schmidt.

Carbery's impetuous in attacking play yielded the opening score, the young maestro stepping in to bamboozle Campese Ma'afu before floating out a fine scoring pass to Sweetnam.

Centre Jale Vatubua then unleashed a bone-shaking hit on Carbery to remind the fast-improving pivot there is more to Test rugby than simply silky skills.

Volavola's penalty had Fiji trailing just 5-3, but Ireland hit back through Kearney, who capped some considered phase play with a neat finish.

Carbery missed his second conversion, this time striking the left post, in another reminder of where he must still improve moving forward.

Only a Conway knock-on denied Kearney a second try, but Conan sealed the third score, scooping up Dominiko Waqaniburotu's dropped ball to race home.

Carbery booted the conversion as Ireland appeared in control, but in a flash Fij countered.

Leone Nakarawa fed Nemani Nadolo on the left, and the powerhouse wing belied his frame by retrieving a deft grubber before sending Seniloli under the sticks.

Volavola's conversion cut Ireland's lead to 17-10 at the break, and Fiji drew first blood and levelled after the turnaround.

Kearney's loose pass gifted Nagusa an intercept, and the hulking wing coasted home. Volavola's conversion tied the game at 17-17.

Debutant Chris Farrell's spilled ball kick-started a flowing Fiji move, that should have ended in another score for Nagusa. But Nakarawa could not hold the wing's inside ball, letting Ireland hugely off the hook.

The scores remained locked and level for more than 20 tense minutes, before replacement fly-half Keatley edged Ireland 20-17 ahead with a penalty.

Volavola's second penalty tied the game again just three minutes later however, only for Keatley to reply in kind and leave Ireland 23-20 to the good.

Cian Healy thought he had sealed the win when bulldozing over, only to be dragged back for not releasing the ball.


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