Ireland caught a glimpse of the future yesterday when the Leinster fly-half Jonathan Sexton made a flawless Test debut in an easy victory over Fiji in treacherous conditions.
Sexton, one of eight new faces introduced by Ireland's coach, Declan Kidney, after the 20-20 draw with Australia at Croke Park last weekend, kicked 16 points out of 16 on offer in an unnervingly confident first international outing. The Leinster man, playing in place of the regular No 10, Ronan O'Gara, put the Six Nations champions in front of a generally disjointed Fiji side with a penalty after 10 minutes.
Ireland went 10 points in front 10 minutes later, when a quick move off the back of their dominant scrum put the Munster wing Keith Earls, another change from last week, in for an easy try.
Fiji began to find their feet towards the end of the first half and their fly-half, Bath's Nicky Little, kicked two penalties either side of another from Sexton to cut the deficit to a converted try, at 13-6 at half-time. However, Ireland's captain, Brian O'Driscoll, the scorer of last week's last-gasp equalising try against the Wallabies, scored after the break and then put Earls in for his second try just before the hour. Ireland continued to control their under-strength opponents and the full-back, Rob Kearney, and wing Shane Horgan went over the Fijian line in the closing stages.
Sexton, who only won a starting spot at Leinster towards the end of last season, converted the last three tries from the tightest of angles to close out a memorable Ireland debut that was crowned with the man-of-the-match award.
Ireland R Kearney (P Wallace, 74); S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt; A Trimble, 67), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, E Reddan (T O'Leary, 59); T Court, J Flannery (S Cronin, 72), J Hayes (T Buckley, 60), L Cullen, P O'Connell (D O'Callaghan, 72), S Ferris, D Leamy (S O'Brien, 43), J Heaslip.
Fiji N Ligairi (T Nagusa, 52); V Goneva, G Lovobalavu, S Baikeinuku, N Roko; N Little, M Rauluni; A Tarogi (I Ledua, 65), V Veikoso (G Dewes, 65), V Seuseu; W Lewaravu, I Rawaqa (L Nakarawa, 41); A Satala, A Qera (S Bola, 69), A Boko.
Referee: M Jonker (South Africa).