In the process, they topped their group and set up a seasonal rematch with reigning champions England. New Zealand take on South Africa in the second semi-final.
Five tries, including a remarkable hat-trick of penalty tries, gave Mike Ruddock’s youngsters a chance to avenge a 30-9 Six Nations defeat earlier this season by the English and a chance of tournament glory.
At the heart of Ireland’s victory, on a day when torrential rain made running rugby virtually impossible, was the powerful scrum and they pummelled a big but technically inept Fijian unit into submission.
Fiji frustrated Ireland for long spells though, conceding penalties by the new time and at one stage they had been reduced to 12 players after a succession of yellow cards.
As the rain poured down and Fiji showed their defiance in defence, Ireland struggled to add to an 11th- minute lead enjoyed courtesy of a Garry Ringrose penalty and they had to wait 31 minutes for the opening try — a penalty try converted by Ringrose. Then it began to unravel for the losers, who conceded a second penalty try, converted again by Ringrose, on the stroke of half-time.
That brought relief for frustrated Ireland who had to win with a bonus point to secure a place in the last four.
They edged closer to their goal when Ciaran Gaffney scorched through a gap off his wing to score near the posts and Ringrose stretched the lead out to 24 points.
But while Ireland were always in control, they had to fight for that crucial fourth try. After four scrum resets, they finally powered towards the Fijian line and again were awarded a penalty try by French referee Alexandre Ruiz. Ringrose converted that and with their place in the knockout stage secured they finished with a flourish, Conor McKeon nabbing a fifth try, that he converted himself.
Ruddock’s team will now be hoping to avenge that loss to England in the Six Nations, the final scoreline at Franklin’s Gardens not giving a true reflection of how tight a contest it was for long spells.
The coach is delighted but conscious of the need to step up to the mark further on Sunday: “We’re not getting carried away. It’s a really good achievement to reach the semi-finals but we know there’s a lot of work to be done yet.
“It’s been a real team effort all through, although Jack O’Donoghue, I think, deserves a special mention, as captain. He’s led from the front and rallied his troops superbly.”
IRELAND: C Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster); C Gaffney (Galwegians/Connacht), G Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), D Goggin (Young Munster/Munster), A Wootton (Garryowen/Munster); R Byrne (UCD/Leinster), R Foley (Cork Constitution/Munster); P Dooley (Lansdowne/Leinster), M Abbott (Cork Constitution/Munster), R Burke (Cork Constitution/Munster), S Gardiner (Lansdowne/Leinster), R Molony (UCD/Leinster), J Murphy (UCD/Leinster), R Moloney (Buccaneers/Connacht), J O’Donoghue (UL Bohemian/Munster, captain).
Replacements: N McCarthy (UCD/Leinster) for Foley, F Taggart (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Murphy (both 44), O Heffernan (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Burke (53), H Brewer (Terenure/Leinster) for Goggin (56), Dylan Donnellan (UCD/Leinster) for Abbott (57), C McKeon (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Byrne (59), D Coulson (Lansdowne/Leinster) for Dooley (65), D Moloney (Cork Constitution/Munster) for O’Donoghue (72).