Irish relish fresh start

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The Independent Online
Ireland 44

Fiji 8

WERE you watching, Wales? If they were not they should have been, for their sense of embarrassment would have been acute. Their victory over the touring Fijians was put in perspective by a rejuvenated Irish side making their first notably confident strides under the new Kiwi coach, Murray Kidd.

The Fijians may have had the better sleight of hand and attacked more expansively off set-piece balls but there was a strikingly positive approach from the men in green in this six-try-to-one victory.

Utilising their tall line-out and the dominance of Neil Francis as a springboard to impose their mauling game, Ireland monopolised possession for long stretches. The new scrum-half Chris Saverimutto made a particularly impressive debut. The Fijians had their spells of pressure but an improved Irish defence remained intact until injury time. The likes of a fit David Corkery and Jonathan Bell epitomised the new breed of Irish rugby players now emerging in the open era. All in all, an encouraging day's work.

Jim Staples, captaining Ireland for the first time, certainly thought so, paying special tribute to Saverimutto. "I thought Chris did a great job. His passing was excellent and he showed that he has two fast hands behind the scrum," Staples said.

Ireland set the tone from the outset, winning the first couple of line- outs through Francis. Then a back-row move was the launching pad for a succession of forward thrusts and Corkery made the biggest incision before Paddy Johns followed up to pick up and score. Paul Burke converted that try and another altogether softer one after 26 minutes, when Francis gathered Terry Kingston's throw 15 yards out to turn and score untroubled.

Burke and Jonetani Waqua exchanged penalties before the interval. Burke extended the lead to 20-3 before converting the try of the day after 50 minutes. Paul Wallace, Nick Popplewell, Gabriel Fulcher and Jeremy Davidson each took the ball on the turn before Richie Wallace came across his wing and skipped past Staples, who then looped around Simon Geoghegan to score.

Saverimutto skilfully put Richie Wallace over in the corner, then Johns did likewise for an exultant Geoghegan after a stunning one-handed interception before Paul Wallace ploughed over for a try which Burke converted.

At the death Waisiki Masirewa obtained a consolation try when pouncing on a loose ball which had squirmed out of the hands of the otherwise flawless Geoghegan.

IRELAND: J Staples (Harlequins, capt); R Wallace (Garryowen), M Field (Malone), J Bell (Northampton), S Geoghegan (Bath); P Burke (Cork Constitution), C Saverimutto (Sale); N Popplewell (Newcastle), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Wallace (Blackrock), G Fulcher (Cork Constitution), N Francis (Old Belvedere), J Davidson, P Johns (both Dungannon), D Corkery (Terenure). Replacements: A Clarke (Northampton) for Kingston, 57; D McBride (Malone) for Davidson, 78.

FIJI: F Rayasi (King Country); P Bale (Canterbury), S Sorovaki (Wellington), L Little (King Country), M Bari (Tavna); J Waqa (Nadroga), J Rauluni (Easts); J Veitayaki (King Country, capt), G Smith (Waikato), E Natuivau (Suva), E Katalau (Poverty Bay), A Nadolo (Suva), T Tamanivalu (Brothers), I Tawake (Nadroga), W Masirewa (Counties).

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).