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Ireland's lack of depth exposed in close Fiji scare

Ireland’s wing Darren Sweetnam (C) celebrates scoring the first try with teammates

A much-changed Ireland were pushed all the way as they scraped to a 23-20 victory over Fiji in Dublin.

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Seven days on from his side’s impressive thrashing of South Africa, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt made 13 alterations to his starting XV but initially watched on with comfort as tries from Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kearney and Jack Conan put the hosts in command.

Fiji refused to give in, however, and pulled level when Henry Seniloli’s eye-catching score was followed by Timoci Nagusa intercepting a Kearney pass to go over in the 45th minute.

There were no further tries, but Ireland sneaked home courtesy of a second penalty from replacement fly-half Ian Keatley, whose first three-pointer had been cancelled out almost immediately by Ben Volavola.

 

Joey Carbery, the man Keatley came on for with 16 minutes remaining, shone in the first period for Ireland and laid on the first try for Sweetnam after breaking the Fiji line with a delightful step inside.

Although Volavola kicked a penalty in response, Ireland looked capable of recording a handsome win when Kearney went over on the left and Conan broke clear from halfway to touch down following one of Fiji’s many handling errors.

However, the visitors’ enterprise was rewarded when a thrilling counter-attack saw Nemani Nadolo collect his own kick and cut inside to put Seniloli over for a try Volavola converted with the last action of the half.

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Nagusa then telegraphed an ill-advised pass from Kearney and Volavola again added the extras to level the scores.

It was therefore left to Keatley to seal victory for Ireland, his second successful kick coming after Kini Murimurivalu had been penalised for a lifting tackle on Cian Healy.

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William 2 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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