Ireland 23 Fiji 20
In the second game of the November Guinness Series, Ireland, with 13 changes to the team that defeated South Africa by a record score last Saturday evening, hosted Fiji.
Former Cork inter-county hurler Darren Sweetnam, who made his Ireland debut off the bench last weekend against South Africa, opened the scoring with a try in the 7th minute. Ireland out half Joey Carbery had done the hard work as he stepped inside a number of Fijian players. Sweetnam found himself free out on the wing to touch down in the same corner as his Munster team mate Andrew Conway did last Saturday when scoring his debut international try.
Carbery failed to score the difficult conversion attempt, the first of two conversion efforts he would miss in the opening period of the game.
Fijian out half Ben Volavola kept his side in the game when gaining the Islanders’ first points through a penalty successfully kicked from midway between the Ireland 10m and 22m lines, leaving a score line of 5-3 with 21 minutes played in the first half.
Ireland soon stretched Fiji. Great play from Andrew Conway, who also impressed last weekend against South Africa, saw the ball find Dave Kearney. Conway drew a few men to let Kearney touch down in the left hand corner, meaning both Irish wingers had scored a five-pointer in the opening 23 minutes of the game. With Carbery missing another difficult conversion effort, Ireland moved into a 10-3 lead.
Dave Kearney thought he had scored his second try of the game 9 minutes later but referee Paul Williams adjudged that fullback Andrew Conway had knocked the ball on earlier in the move.
Ireland’s third try came through Jack Conan who picked up a Fijian dropped ball and made the line despite the best efforts of their backtracking players. Joey Carbery had his first successful conversion of the evening when adding the extra two points, pushing Ireland into a 17-3 lead on 35 minutes.
Just as Ireland seemed comfortable with half time approaching, Fiji ran the ball from inside their own half with the home side stretched. Scrum half Henry Seniloli scored under the posts, before Ben Volavola added the extras for a half time score of Ireland 17 Fiji 10.
A far from inspiring second half by Ireland saw them pegged back to level scores at 17-17 when Irish possession of the ball was intercepted, allowing Fijian Timoci Nagusa touch the ball down under the posts, before Ben Volavola converted to level the scores.
Ireland looked on edge from this stage onwards and seemed to lack real leadership on the field. Joe Schmidt began to empty his bench, first changing the front row on 55 minutes with the introduction of Healy, Tracy and Furlong, and soon CJ Stander entered the fray.
The forced substitution of Joey Carbery through injury saw Munster’s Ian Keatley play in the number 10 slot. With his first penalty kick of the game, Dublin-born Keatley pushed Ireland back in front when his kick from just outside the 22m line dissected the posts.
That lead was shot lived, however, as Ben Volavola scored a penalty when Ireland’s Jordi Murphy was penalised.
With time running out for a winning score, a high tackle by Murumurivalu on Cian Healy, which the referee didn’t deem serious enough for a yellow card, saw Ireland afforded an opportunity to again move ahead. Keatley’s second successive penalty kick saw Ireland move into a 3 point lead, a margin they would maintain in the nervous closing minutes of the game.