Ian Keatley kicked a 73rd-minute penalty to guide Ireland to a thrilling 23-20 win over Fiji at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
A week after they bullied the Springboks into submission en route to a 38-3 victory, Ireland faced a much sterner challenge from the spirited Fijians.
While their performance in Dublin wasn’t as impressive as last weekend, it was still effective enough to overcome Fiji.
The islanders deserve credit for the gutsy display they put on. Trailing by 14 points at one stage, they fought back to level the scores twice, only to concede a late penalty, resulting in this agonising defeat.
Ireland started off brightly and led 17-3 late in the first half after wings Darren Sweetnam and Dave Kearney, as well as No 8 Jack Conan, all scored. Flyhalf Joey Carbery only succeeded with one of his three conversion attempts.
A lapse in concentration by the hosts right on the stroke of half-time saw Nemani Nadolo take advantage with a great run to set up a try for scrumhalf Henry Senioli as Fiji went into the break trailing 17-10.
The second stanza was a closely-fought affair. Another unforced error by Ireland soon after the restart led to a Fiji try when wing Timoci Nagusa read play beautifully and intercepted a wild pass to dot down at the other end. Ben Volavola made no mistake with the conversion, which levelled matters.
Panic began to set in for Ireland, forcing coach Joe Schmidt to make changes. Carbery was replaced by Keatley, and the new man made an immediate impact for the hosts. He slotted a penalty in the 66th minute to break the deadlock, only for Volavola to cancel that effort out with another penalty for Fiji.
With the score reading 20-20 heading into the last 10 minutes, Ireland won a penalty, and Keatley coolly stepped up to knock over the match-defining kick.
Ireland – Tries: Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kearney, Jack Conan. Conversion: Joey Carbery. Penalties: Ian Keatley (2).
Fiji – Tries: Henry Senioli, Timoci Nagusa. Conversions: Ben Volavola (2). Penalties: Volavola (2).
Ireland – 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 5 Devin Toner, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 James Tracy, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Fiji – 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Jale Vatabua, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Henry Senioli, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Dominiko Waqaniboruto, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Talemaitoga Tuapati, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Subs: 16 Sunia Koto, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Sikeli Nabou, 20 Peceli Yato/Semi Kunatani, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 23 Vereniki Goneva.
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