Ireland will play in the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship after a convincing 47-27 win over Fiji in Stellenbosch.
Ireland had the game won by half-time, which wasn’t a surprise, but it was a performance that lacked the focus and clinical effectiveness of their match day two dismantling of Australia.
That was to be expected of course. The tragic death of Greig Oliver in a freak paragliding accident on Monday sent ripples through the entire squad.
Oliver was father of Ireland under-20 scrumhalf Jack and a long-serving Munster coach, whom many of the players would’ve worked under at some stage in their short careers.
He was in Cape Town as part of a vocal and colourful band of touring parents and family who created a wonderful atmosphere in the first two matches at Paarl Gimnasium.
Naturally the mood was more sombre at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on Tuesday in the wake of the tragic events 24 hours earlier.
Ireland wore black armbands to acknowledge not only Greig Oliver’s passing but also the deaths of two Irish teenagers – Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall – who died on holiday in the Greek Islands.
To say it was a traumatic build-up for the Irish team before the Fiji contest would be an understatement. That they even took the field at all, in a condition to play a tough, physical match, was testament to their resolve and courage.
There was a minute’s silence before kick-off and Fiji captain Moti Murray then handed Ireland skipper Diarmud Mangan a jersey as a mark of respect for Greig and Jack Oliver, who naturally did not take his place on the bench. It was a beautiful moment in the most tragic of circumstances.
Flawed display It was a flawed display, with good reason, but it was also job done, as Ireland booked their place in the semi-finals regardless of the England versus Australia outcome later in the day.
Ireland made 19 handling errors and were forced to make 179 tackles. It was far from perfect but more than acceptable considering the circumstances.
Four first half tries – all scored from close range drives – ensured the outcome was decided by the break.
No 8 Brian Gleeson was on hand to score the first and fourth, both stemming from penalties, lineout drives and multiple phases close to the line.
In between hooker Danny Sheahan and loosehead George Hadden scored tries, both from multiple phases close to the Fiji line. The Islanders defended bravely but they simply couldn’t cope with Ireland’s dominant pack.
Fiji did score two first half tries themselves. The first was out of the Irish playbook as they pounded Ireland’s line for 10 phases before earning a penalty. They took a quick tap and loosehead Moses McGoon was strong enough to drive over.
Close to half-time, elegant flyhalf Isaiah Ravula, cousin to All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, finished off another attack from a tap and go. He still had work to do, but a dummy and acceleration into a gap was enough to get through centre Sam Berman’s tackle.
There were a few nervous moments after half-time as Ireland lost focus and the game became fractured.
Fiji needed no invitation to make the most of the open play and scored two wonderful long range tries to come within four points of the lead 10 minutes into the second half.
Ravula was on hand to score the first of Fiji’s long-range strikes and he then turned provider with a lovely chip kick deep inside his half, which ended in a try for replacement Pateresio Finau, At that point Ireland looked rattled and in danger of losing a game they had in firm control at the break. The introduction of some bench players, including regular skipper Gus McCarthy and flyhalf Sam Prendergast, calmed matters as Ireland returned to a more structured game plan.
More tries followed as Ireland returned to the maul and scrum as primary weapons. Gus McCarthy scored twice, both after lineout drives, and wing Andrew Osborne showed some Fijian flair of his own with a lovely long range strike.
Scorers for Ireland: Tries – Brian Gleeson (2), Danny Sheahan, George Hadden, Gus McCarthy (2), Andrew Osborne. Conversions – Matthew Lynch (3), Sam Prendergast (3).
Scorers for Fiji: Tries – Moses McGoon, Isaiah Ravula, Moti Murray, Pateresio Finau, Manieta Navonovono. Conversion – Ravula.
Ireland: Henry McErlean, Andrew Osborne, Sam Berman, John Devine, James Nicholson, Matthew Lynch, Oscar Cawley; George Hadden, Danny Sheahan, Fiachna Barrett, Evan O’Connell, Joe Hopes, Diarmuid Mangan (capt), Dan Barron, Brian Gleeson, Dan Barron, Diarmuid Mangan (capt), Joe Hopes, Evan O’Connell, Fiachna Barrett, Danny Sheahan, George Hadden.
Replacements: Max Clein, George Morris, Ronan Foxe, Charlie Irvine, Gus McCarthy, Paddy McCarthy, Sam Prendergast, Harry West.
Fiji: Peni Waqalala, Sireli Masiwini, Waqa Nalaga, Pateresio Finau, Manieta Navonovono, Isaiah Ravula, Philip Baselala, Moses McGoon, Joeli Nainoca, Breyton Legge, Mesake Vocevoce, Nalani May, Timoci Nakalevu, Moti Murray (capt), Juda Saumaisue.
Replacements: Josh Kina, Marika Toga, Lasaro Vuluma, Semi Tokitani, Sakenasa Nalasi, Zach Kama, Frank Ralogaivau, Netava Saukuru.
Source : Irish Examiner