Miller gives new-look Ireland fringe benefits

Ireland 55 USA 6
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The Independent Online

We can forgive Ireland that they didn't surpass the 70 points England scored against Canada, or the century Scotland put past Japan last week. This was a nasty old day, and an untried team predictably took their time to find a rhythm. After a scratchy opening 40 minutes came a one-way second half that produced six tries and enough positive points to keep the Irish coaching team - and a surprisingly large crowd - in good spirits.

We can forgive Ireland that they didn't surpass the 70 points England scored against Canada, or the century Scotland put past Japan last week. This was a nasty old day, and an untried team predictably took their time to find a rhythm. After a scratchy opening 40 minutes came a one-way second half that produced six tries and enough positive points to keep the Irish coaching team - and a surprisingly large crowd - in good spirits.

The main winners from the exercise were fringe players such as Eric Miller and Donncha O'Callaghan; also debutants Denis Leamy and Tommy Bowe, who both showed flashes of their considerable talents. David Humphreys also cashed in, passing 500 Test points and converting Peter Stringer's injury-time try from wide on the right to complete a success rate of nine from nine.

The Americans could have done without Humphreys being quite so prolific. They could also have done without losing eight line-outs on their own throw. As they prepare for next Saturday's Test in Rome, they should focus on the positive aspects of a first half in which they had a decent share of possession and territory.

By the end of that period, they had restricted Ireland to a lead of just 13-6. That the game did not go quite to script was due in part to a new team understandably keen to get on with things and so failing to get certain basics right. The presentation of ruck ball was not always spot-on, which was compounded by the fact that Guy Easterby, short on game-time, looked hesitant. His problems spread to Humphreys, who had an awful first 40 minutes.

The Americans were game, as ever. They gave Leamy and Shane Horgan the space to set up an early penalty for Humphreys with some strong running, but responded almost immediately.

A wicked slice by Humphreys gave them some territory, and when Leamy high-tackled Mike Hercus, the US outside-half was presented with a straightforward penalty in front of the posts. He missed - a worrying miss, given Hercus's dodgy place-kicking reputation.

He was given another opportunity four minutes later and converted to tie the game with the first quarter almost up. It might have been even better for the Eagles had Hercus not been off-target with a drop-goal attempt. Instead, Ireland enjoyed their best 10 minutes of the half. After his forwards had snaffled a ball 30 metres out, Humphreys darted up the middle to set up a penalty for himself. And it was not long before he was converting Miller's try.

The score stemmed from Hercus's failure to get enough distance on his clearance. It was plucked from the sky by Bowe, who ran the ball back well enough for his forwards to build momentum. There followed two impressive off-loads, one from O'Callaghan, the next from Marcus Horan to Geordan Murphy, who was stopped under the posts. It was then simply a matter of Horgan putting the unmarked Miller over.

It looked ominous for the visitors when flanker Brian Surgener was sent to the bin for persistent obstruction almost immediately after the game resumed. But somehow the Eagles survived their 10 minutes, actually scoring three points through a Hercus penalty while Ireland scored none. The Americans grew in confidence. When, just before the break, their forwards stopped the Irish maul from churning over their try-line, flanker Tony Petruzzella punched the air triumphantly. But this would be their last victory of the day. Playing into the wind in the second half, it was essential America got a few more minutes on the clock without conceding. Instead, Murphy was side-stepping over within a minute. Once O'Callaghan collected at the restart America were on the back foot, and soon Murphy was angling on to an O'Driscoll pass that looked suspiciously forward.

American resilience - and Irish profligacy - meant 57 minutes were up before Ireland scored again. The key was using ball off the top of the line-out, which preceded two tries in three minutes. First Murphy timed his run beautifully on to O'Driscoll's pass to fly over, then O'Driscoll did well to transfer Humphreys' hospital pass on to Horgan, who sent Bowe over for a try on debut.

From there it was just a question of how many. Horan battered his way over for number five, and then produced a memorable 40-metre diagonal run infield to set up Frankie Sheahan for number six. Stringer's blindside dart ensured Ireland reached the half-century.

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), K Maggs (Ulster), T Bowe (Ulster); D Humphreys (Ulster), G Easterby (Leinster); M Horan (Munster), F Sheahan (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Leamy (Munster), E Miller (Leinster).

Replacements: A Foley (Munster) for S Easterby, 73; P Stringer (Munster) for G Easterby, 69; G Dempsey (Leinster) for O'Driscoll, 78.

United States: F Viljoen; A Lakomskis, P Emerick, S Sika, D Fee; M Hercus, M Timoteo (D Williams, 63); M MacDonald, M Wyatt, J Waasdorp, A Parker, G Klerck, B Surgener, K Schubert (capt), T Petruzzella (T Mo'unga, 48).

Referee: R Dickson (Scotland).

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