independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Ulster rookies destroy limp Fiji

Gilroy shines in eight-try rout

The reason this game was slotted in below Test level was so that it could be brought out of Lansdowne Road – the union's contract with the company that runs the stadium requires all home Tests to be played there – and away from a half-empty backdrop, and the financial stresses that go with that.

And of course no sooner was the game officially downgraded, and rendered redundant as part of points gathering towards international rankings, but most of the public lost interest in it as well.

In the circumstances then, a crowd of over 20,000 at Thomond Park on a cold and drizzly night was a good turnout. For their investment in the occasion they were rewarded with a game Ireland had sewn up by the end of the first quarter, when they were 17-0 in front. It was 29-0 by half-time, and when referee Leighton Hodges wrapped it up the try count stood at eight.

In truth, it was barely above the status of a training run, a comfort zone for the fresh faces to get their international careers started. Just as Jonny Sexton made his debut in similar circumstances three years ago, Paddy Jackson had the enjoyable experience of getting a stream of ball going forward from a pack who were miles ahead of their opponents. The only danger to him was the chance of being clobbered late, which increased as the tourists fell further out the back end of the game.

Unfortunately for the Fijians, understrength and under-resourced, they have to stop off in Tbilisi on the way home so the Georgians can have a go off them. It may well be snowing there by then. Just what the south sea islanders are after.

For Ireland, meantime, this exercise had no relevance to their clash with the Pumas in Lansdowne Road on Saturday. Unfortunately for Eric Elwood and Connacht however it may have a whole lot of relevance for them given that John Muldoon was stretchered off, early in the second half, after an accidental collision with Conor Murray.

Otherwise, Declan Kidney didn't seem to have any other notable casualties on his list. The coach gave starts to Ulster quartet Jackson, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy, with Paul Marshall joining them off the bench for the last quarter. Strangely he passed on the opportunity to give Simon Zebo another start at fullback. He had done well there last weekend and surely another spin would have been useful ahead of the Argentina game.

Instead the slot went to Denis Hurley, making his second international appearance three years after his first. That sequence would suggest Hurley is not exactly centre stage, whereas Zebo could well be there, or pretty close to it. He got the last 20 minutes, by which stage Ireland were 36-0 ahead.

At that point the Fijians were ratty and disjointed and looking to leave a mark on someone if not the game itself. Replacement Saula Radidi tried harder than most to do damage to anything in green. Toulouse flyer Timoci Matanavou was binned for a tip tackle on Conor Murray, and he was followed in the final quarter by the replacement hooker Tuapati Talemaitoga for a late tackle on man of the match Craig Gilroy. Luckily it didn't take a lot out of the Ulster wing.

He had already scored one try by that stage, added a second a few minutes after a late hit, thanks to a nicely delayed pass by Zebo, and then ran all of 95 metres to secure his hat-trick, dodging white shirts along the way.

It was Gilroy who had started the rout on 10 minutes when a good combination between Jackson, Luke Marshall and himself ended with a try by the corner flag. With Jackson having tapped over a penalty on six minutes, you felt that a 10-point lead was a huge issue for the Fijians.

They had nothing to offer and seemed to appreciate the fact better than anyone, so we weren't given one of those performances where the underdog keeps yapping away, oblivious. More like a lie down with the odd snap when they became grumpy. Only once over the 80 did they look like they might get across the Ireland line. In fairness to the home they defended the series of attacks close-in, mid way through the second half, as if there was more at stake.

The sight of the impressive Iain Henderson ripping the ball clear was the final nail for the away side, who would have left reasonably happy if they had got over the line just once.

Instead they had to suffer some more, with Gilroy's two strikes, and then Marshall rounded off the night by getting over in the corner, to make it five tries from the Ulster backline contingent alone. Given their profile these days, that was about right.

Ireland: D Hurley; F McFadden, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (C Healy 47), S Cronin (R Strauss 53), M Ross (M Bent 53); D O'Callaghan, D Tuohy; I Henderson, J Heaslip (capt)(M McCarthy 76), J Muldoon (C Henry 44; yc 64-74).

Fiji: M Talebula; S Koniferedi (S Radidi 37), V Goneva, R Fatiaki (T Manatavou h-t; yc 47-57)), W Votu; J Ralulu, N Matawalu (K Bola 68); J Yanuyanutawa (S Semoca 70), V Veikoso (T Talemaitoga 45; yc 67-77)), D Manu (capt); L Nakarawu (A Ratuniyarawa 45), A Naikatini; I Ratuva, N Nagusa (J Domolailai 61), M Ravulo.

Referee: L Hodges (Wales)

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