Ireland fail to soar against makeshift Eagles

AN uninspiring end to a glorious season for Irish rugby as Declan Kidney’s side struggled to put a makeshift USA Eagles XV to the sword at the Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara yesterday.

The Grand Slam-winning coach looked for improvement on the performance against Canada from a week ago, and went with 14 of the side that triumphed in Vancouver. However, Ireland didn’t even manage to get out of first gear against a fired-up US outfit containing a host of amateur players. The lack of cut and thrust and cohesiveness in Ireland’s display may be attributed to an effective US backrow that epitomised the never-say-die spirit of an Eagles squad that gives head coach Eddie O’Sullivan a good base from which to work during his busy summer programme.

The Eagles might have been closer at the finish only for their most experienced international, Mike Hercus, to implode from the kicking tee. The former Llanelli Scarlet missed four kickable shots on goal, and it wasn’t until replacement out half Nese Malifa appeared that the Eagles finally got scores on the board.

“We did well overall,” said an upbeat O’Sullivan afterwards. “We made some mistakes and got punished for them. It was our first game of the season, but I was happy with our scrum and I thought we defended very well – so there are a lot of positives for us. Maybe, with a bit of luck it might have been a tighter game.”

His counterpart Declan Kidney took a more sober view on his team’s performance. “It was a poor game, (we made) a lot of mistakes but we came on the whole tour to see what we had. There was a lot of euphoria around the Six Nations, but it’s the start of our World Cup build-up now, and we’ll have to see where we’re gong to start from.

“We won’t cod anybody – there were a lot of mistakes. Lads did train well during the week, but they have to get used to trying to front up week in, week out for international rugby. I’m not saying we didn’t do that but we have lots to learn.”

Ireland struggled at the breakdown area where the US committed huge numbers, failed to get the upper-hand in the scrum where Mike Ross had a underwhelming day, while the backline failed to sparkle with Ulster pairing Darren Cave and Ian Whitten not producing the goods.

Positives? Tony Buckley enjoyed his best day to date in an Ireland shirt, Bob Casey and Mick O’Driscoll did little wrong and, despite some missed wayward goal-kicking, Ian Keatley’s percentage play and general control gives Ireland hope for the future at outhalf.

In a stop-start first half there were few moments of continuity, a situation exacerbated by the whistle-happy Chris White. One of the few highlights included a Niall Ronan break, but the move broke down 10 metres from the line when Ian Dowling was pinged for holding on.

Minutes later Mick O’Driscoll found himself in open country throwing a long pass to Dowling but the Munster winger was wrapped up by strong scramble US defence. Ireland won a penalty and opted to kick to touch. Their lineout was one of the few positives from the opening 40 minutes and, after Rory Best found O’Driscoll to set up a driving rolling maul, Casey touched down for a 13th minute try. Keatley’s conversion attempt was poorly struck but the Dubliner did e find the range with a 23rd minute penalty.

There was plenty energy and physicality in the USA’s play, their centre Sifu and winger Boyd impressing while up front their pack proved more than a match for the Irish. They forced Ireland into conceding penalties but, fortunately for the visitors, Hercus left his kicking boots at home. During a period of dominance by the US, the flyhalf missed marginally from three successive penalty attempts.

Then the US were hit for a demoralising try in injury time. Keatley created the move, sliding into a gap in midfield where he found Barry Murphy. The Munster man distributed to Best, who then gave the try-scoring pass to Whitten, the Ulster man barging over for his first senior international try to give Ireland a 13-0 half time lead.

Hercus’s Santa Clara nightmare continued after the break when he missed his fourth kickable penalty in the 50th minute, before Ireland were awarded a penalty try. It came about from a well-executed rolling maul where Casey and O’Driscoll were central in the drive towards the line. The Eagles, however, continually infringed and an impatient White ran under the posts to award the penalty try, converted by Keatley.

In the past the US might have wilted but, to their credit, showed great character to work their way back into the game. Nese Malifa replaced the underperforming Hercus and the Pacific Islander made an immediate impact from the pivotal position. First Malifa dropped a goal in the 62nd minute after superb approach play by the Eagles forwards, and then three minutes later, the out half made a superb break and offload for Andrew Suniula who brought the 10,000 inside the Buck Shaw to its feet when touching down. Malifa added the conversion.

But Malifa then turned villain after failing to catch a straightforward pass from his scrum half inside his own ‘22’. Eoin Reddan applied pressure before the pack arrived to force a turnover. Reddan switched the ball left to the openside for Rory Best who showed good pace to run in the insurance score, converted by Keatley.

The game lost its shape in the closing ten minutes though Ireland were a huge disappointment given the number of experienced professionals they had on the park compared to O’Sullivan’s patchwork.

Scorers for USA : Try, Suniula. Dropgoal, Malifa

Scorers for Ireland : Tries – Casey, Whitten, penalty try, Best. Pen – Keatley. Cons Keatley (2)

USA: C Wyles (Saracens FC), J Boyd (Dallas Harlequins), J Sifa (Middleton); R Suniula (Pearl City), K Swiryn (Old Puget Sound Beach); M Hercus (Sunshine Coast Stingrays) M Petri (New York Athletic Club) (capt); M MacDonald (Leeds Carnegie), Chris Biller (California), W Johnson (Oxford University); J Van Der Giessen (Denver Barbarians); Hayden Smith (Saracens), L Stanfill (New York Athletic Club), Peter Dahl (Belmont Shore), N Johnson (Denver Barbarians).

Replacements: M Moeakiola (Park City Haggis) for Biller (44); A Malifa (Belmont Shore) for Hercus (58).

IRELAND: G Duffy (Connacht); B Murphy (Munster), D Cave (Ulster), I Whitten (Ulster), I Dowling (Munster); I Keatley (Connacht), P Stringer (Munster); T Buckley (Munster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Harlequins); B Casey (London Irish), M O’Driscoll (Munster); J Muldoon (Connacht), N Ronan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster).

Replacements: D Hurley for Cave (22-30), T Court for Ross (50); E Reddan (Wasps) for Stringer and D Ryan (Munster) for Muldoon (both 60); R Caldwell for Casey (65)

Ref – C White (England)

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