Irish turn professional

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The Independent Online
DAVID HUGHES

reports from Lansdowne Road

Ireland 44 Fiji 8

As brave new dawns go this could hardly have been any brighter. It was not just the six tries to one victory over a Fijian side that had shared four tries with Wales the week before. It was the manner of its execution. An ultra-professional win for these new times.

From the first to the last Ireland never let up. With four forwards taller than the tallest Fijian, Ireland monopolised the line-out, especially through Neil Francis on their own throw, and strangled Fiji with their mauling game. Apart from one defensive scrum, Fiji did not touch the ball in the nine minutes before Paddy Johns' opening try.

Not the least encouraging aspect of the performance was the ensuing 15 minutes of defensive work which denied Fiji a quick route back into the game and thereafter kept them out until injury time. In this regard, David Corkery, Jonathan Bell and Simon Geoghegan were quite outstanding.

A soft try for Francis enabled Ireland to pull clear and after two Paul Burke penalties the contest was killed off with the best of their six after 50 minutes, which also encapsulated the more fluent, rucking game which their new Kiwi coach, Murray Kidd, is seeking to develop.

After Francis won a Fijian throw-in on half-way, Paul Wallace, Nick Popplewell, Gabriel Fulcher and Jeremy Davidson took play deep into the Fijian 22. Richard Wallace switched wings to link up on the blind side for Jim Staples to loop around Geoghegan and score.

Then the Wallace brothers emulated the Hewitts, circa 1924, in scoring tries either side of one for Geoghegan. All in all, Kidd could not have asked for a better start.

However he strove to downplay the victory. "For me it's given me a good base to work on but it's not something at this stage you would really get carried away with."

Likewise Staples, the Irish captain. "If roles were reversed and we were up against a Kiwi side they would actually home in on any weakness and we're nowhere near that standard," he said.

Nevertheless Staples heralded a new dawn. "I don't want to harp back to some of the sessions that we do in London but all I know is that the sessions we've had over the last few weeks have been conducted at a much higher pace than previously.

"That isn't a criticism of any past regimes. The intensity has been greater. Of course the players are new to the regime and they're showing great enthusiasm. But I think we're going in the right direction."

Ireland: Tries Johns, Francis, Staples, R Wallace, Geoghegan, P Wallace; Penalties Burke 2; Conversions Burke 4. Fiji: Try Masirewa; Penalty Waqa.

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 Constitition), N Francis (Old Belvedere), J Davidson (Dungannon), P Johns (Dungannon), D Corkery (Terenure). Replacements: A Clarke (Northampton) for Kingston, 56; 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).

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