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Rugby League

Improbable Irish challenge comes to an end

Fiji 30 Ireland 14

Ireland’s exhilarating World Cup journey came to an end on the Gold Coast as Fiji picked up the poisoned kava-cup of a semi-final against Australia.

The Irish, the most refreshing over-achievers of the tournament, went down battling and might have set up a clash with the world’s best team if two chances shortly after half-time had been taken and if Pat Richards, best man at his brother’s wedding at the weekend, had not kicked like the worst man.

As it was, Fiji were able to build the pressure on an impeccably brave Irish defence and eventually get their breakthrough from Jason Bukuya.

Further tries from Jarryd Hayne and a second from Akuila Uate, a hugely talented young winger who is interesting Wigan, stretched the lead, before the Irish finished on a high with Damien Blanch's second.

"It was pretty courageous and the spirit we’ve built up was there for all to see," said the Irish coach. "But we went away from what we’ve been good at and were under pressure all night."

It will be Fiji now under all the pressure when they face Australia at the Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday.

"We are going into the match expecting to win," said their captain, Wes Naiqama. They are an enterprising, entertaining but very loose rugby league team and it will be the biggest surprise in the history of the game if they do so.

England continued their preparations for their semi-final against New Zealand on Saturday with Paul Wellens unable to train with the rest of the squad.

The St Helens full-back sprained his ankle in last weekend’s defeat by the Kiwis and the England coach, Tony Smith, said he would leave him out if he has not proved his fitness by the end of the week.

One decision already made is that Ade Gardner will return on the right wing to mark Manu Vatuvei, who scored four tries through a disorganised defence in the last game.

Vatuvei said that he expected to face the Saints’ wingman. "He is one of their key players and will make it much tougher," he said.

Smith has launched a major offensive on the performances of Australian referees in England’s games, particularly that of Tony Archer in the Kiwi defeat.

"There were three tries we didn't think should have been awarded," he said and was equally critical of a pivotal penalty ruling.

"Kevin Sinfield has brushed a fly off someone and he’s fallen over," he said. "If that’s where we’ve got to in this game we’re in trouble. We’ve had three Australian referees in our three games and we’ve struggled with all of them."

Smith also rejected criticism of his side for going into a huddle and turning their backs on New Zealand’s haka on Saturday, something the Kiwi captain, Benji Marshall claimed showed a lack of respect.

"It wasn’t meant as any disrespect - and we did it in our own half, so any disrespect was the other way."

Smith said he would leave the issue of how to react to the haka in Brisbane up to his players. Their captain, Jamie Peacock, said that they had not discussed the matter yet.