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Ireland took on the mighty Fiji in Lansdowne Road on Saturday night and it was a game of 3 halves. Don’t let my ordinary level maths confuse you. But it was a game of 3 halves.
The team selected kept only 2 started from the previous week against South Africa (Conway and Toner) and 13 starters none of which had 15 caps or more. A brave move from King Joe. I think most expected maybe 4 or 5 new caps to start with a mixture of experience and newbies on the bench, but Joe showed confidence in his entire squad here which was a massively positive move and sent a great message to his team.
Fiji meanwhile, have 14 of their starters playing in the Guinness Pro14, England or France. So they are not the jobbers they once were. They have the skill that they are known for, but the exposure to the professional game means that they are used to big games. They won’t be scared of the occasion. Ireland is a scalp they want to take. The main issue was going to be their fitness. The old story is that they will wilt towards the end and that is when the scoreboard will look nice. Until then it would be a tough game.
Ireland started really well. Joey ‘Blue Steel’ Carbery was pulling the strings like he was working in the Lambert Puppet Theatre. For such a slight man, he had the Fijians scared of him and his quick feet. The team where playing positive rugby. Set piece was holding well but the holes didn’t appear until the tried and trusted J10 wrap around (I am sure he has this patented at this stage), Carbery opened up Fiji like Christmas turkey and Sweetnam (player of the series so far) scored in the corner with 7 minutes gone. A tough kick was missed but Ireland where on the board and it appeared that they would continue to add scores with relative ease.
Fiji where not going away and where able to move the ball quicker than Ireland, they rucked well and it was the Irish defence that kept them to a 3 point return instead of more at 20 minutes. This was a game. The collisions where massive. Dave Kearney finished a classy move in the corner to add the 5. Another tough kick for Carbery and he hits the post. This was followed by Jack Conan ‘The Barbarian’ showing pick up skills that most fellas could use in coppers at closing time to score again. The scoreboard looked to be picking up massively. 17-3 at half time, with a confidence boosting kick for the Irish 10.
Then Ireland took their foot off the gas, a bit like the rest of us when we’ve put a good shift in at work and its 4pm. We start going to the canteen a bit more than usual and the work builds up again. Ireland lost concentration and the Fijians scored just before half time. The championship minutes. The minutes where Ireland should be showing their mettle. Really putting teams back. But it didn’t happen. Nadolo was the star man for Fiji all day. Not only a frightening large human being, he can kick and has an ability to read the game that is fantastic to watch. I would say it is not fantastic to watch when he is running at you. When Nadolo is running at you at full speed I would suggest you would get very religious, very quickly. He shows massive skill to pass 3 Irish players and hand off the pass for the try and easy conversion. Fiji back in it as the ref calls half time. 17-10.
The second half starts with a Dave Kearney mistake letting Fiji score again. The championship minutes again showing Ireland with a lack of concentration. At the hour mark the game was level. Ireland’s inexperience was showing with a few missed passes and a general lack of calm. McCloskey attempting offloads that were not on being one example. He had a good game against a tough Fiji midfield but he may not be the first in line for video review this morning.
At the hour mark the main thing of note was how competent Fiji where. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but the improvement over the last few years has been massive. The set piece was solid and simple. They moved the ball quicker than Ireland did. The slump that many expected wasn’t there. That was partly due to the adrenaline of being in the game for the last 20 minutes and the near reality of taking a win in Dublin.
Cian Healy came on and has been a different player this year. Sonny Bill offloads and bulldozing runs are back. That 1 jersey will be a fantastic competition to watch in the coming months.
Carbery went off early in the second half with a fractured wrist. He wasn’t the same in the second half after taking a massive hit in the first. I have no idea how he wasn’t concussed after that. His head whiplashed in the tackle and then cracked off the ground. Looks like he is out until feb/march time next year which is a blow for green and blue but hopefully he is back for the 6 Nations. Keatley stepped in and had a confident performance. Kicking over 6 points in the second half to scrape Ireland the win. Healy should have had a try awarded but that is me with my green tinted glasses on.
69 minutes gone and it was 20-20 and Fiji where good value for their 20 points. Keatley kicked again cool like a pouting James bond to put Ireland back in front. On a side note, the new drinking game is to have a gulp every time you see Keatley pout while kicking. Even though it was a cameo performance, he played very well and is a credit to the work he has done since his nightmare year last year.
While there were no stand out performances in the starting 15. There were a few who didn’t shine as they should have. Kieran Marmion struggled. While that was because the Fijians made it hard for him to have any time, he didn’t do what Luke McGrath can do. It may have pushed him to second replacement in the 9 jersey. Keatley / Healy really showed their way back. Great outings from both. A win is a win; it was good to see a team try and win. I expected South Africa to be the team trying but it was Fiji who looked like the monsters.
I do not envy the team who has to play Fiji in a pressure situation in the World Cup.
Ireland march into next week with the fresh blood being blooded. They have come through a stern test and will be value for money when called upon. Andrew Conway has been a revelataion, Sweetnam too. Both will be starting and in the team for next week.
Argentina are hot and cold. We don’t know what they will do. For me, emotionally, we have to beat Argentina as many times as we can. They have broken my heart too many times, so we need to bring back our starters and sprinkle in a few newish caps for next week and finish the November series on a high.
More on that closer to the time
As usual, @nkeegan and thecouchpundit.podbean.com for more.
Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.
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