Keatley Kicks Ireland Home In Bruising Battle With Fiji
20th November 2017 By The Editor
Ian Keatley’s brace of penalties in the final quarter of an hour closed out a hard-earned 23-20 win for Ireland against a physical Fijian outfit, with Joe Schmidt’s much-changed team prevailing despite a pockmarked performance.
The second Guinness Series Test brought another sell-out crowd to the Aviva Stadium, and tries from wingers Darren Sweetnam and Dave Kearney, and a third from number 8 Jack Conan, had Ireland leading 17-3 as half-time approached.
Joey Carbery showed some classy touches in attack, but Fiji’s ability to convert turnovers into quick-fire scores saw them draw level early in the second half. Henry Seniloli, set up by Nemani Nadolo, and Timoci Nagusa, who intercepted a pass from Kearney, both touched down either side of the break.
17-all was then 20 points apiece after replacement Ian Keatley and Ben Volavola swapped penalties, but Ireland’s experienced bench helped them see out a narrow victory thanks to Keatley’s decisive 72nd-minute strike which punished a high tackle on the impressive Cian Healy.
Andrew Conway was Man of the Match as he backed up last week’s try-scoring appearance against South Africa with another excellent performance. Chris Farrell started to make his Ireland debut while it was a first Ireland try for Sweetnam in his first start and CJ Stander came off the bench to captain Ireland for the first time.
While disappointed with the obvious breakdown issues, handling errors and the scores coughed up, head coach Joe Schmidt was still pleased with the manner in which his young and largely inexperienced side overcame the Fijians in testing circumstances.
“We took some chances tonight and we knew that before we kicked off. It wasn’t just that (inexperience in the team). It was that amount of changes in the space of a week, that does make it really difficult, but you breathe a sigh of relief at the end of it and you move on to next week,” he said afterwards.
“Sometimes it’s just about finding a way. We looked like we lacked a bit of cohesion, but the players were working hard. The first quarter, we did really well – Joey (Carbery) was a bit special the way he cut the line and got that pass into the hands of Darren Sweetnam who finished comfortably.
“At 17 -3 before half-time, I was really happy we had worked our way to that. Then the lineout on their 22 got turned over and they got away down that touchline. Suddenly it’s 17-10 and you feel a bit of that pressure, especially when it’s a young side.
“That was great for us. It’s exactly what we wanted, but we didn’t want it in a lot of ways. We wanted to see the players react under pressure and when it went to 17-all and 20-all, again they really had to find a way.
“We stayed calm enough to control that last 10 minutes, Ian Keatley did a really good job, he came in and kicked those two penalties to win it. There’s certainly frustration but there’s never anger when you put that effort into it. It’s just to learn from that experience.
“While it’s frustrating right now, we’re still delighted to get the win. I don’t think we’ll get buried under the negatives because there are some positives in there. Fiji are ranked where they’re ranked because they’ve got good results, there’s less between the teams than you think.”
Ireland: A Conway; D Sweetnam, C Farrell (R Henshaw, 64), S McCloskey, D Kearney; J Carbery (I Keatley, 64), K Marmion (L McGrath, 77); J McGrath (C Healy, 55), R Herring (J Tracy, 55), A Porter (T Furlong, 55); U Dillane, D Toner (K Treadwell, 64); R Ruddock – captain (CJ Stander, 61), J Murphy, J Conan.