x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ireland out of World Cup

Ireland's World Cup adventure is over after losing to Fiji. The Pacific Islanders now face Australia in the semi-finals on Sunday.

Akuila Uate of Fiji takes on the Irish defence
Akuila Uate of Fiji takes on the Irish defence

GOLD COAST // Ireland's fairy-tale World Cup run came to grief on the Gold Coast in their semi-final qualifier, leaving Fiji to face champions Australia in Sydney next Sunday for a place in the final. The Fijians, who provided Scotland with their first-ever World Cup win in the group stages, will hope for a dramatic improvement on their last meeting with the Kangaroos when they clash at the Sydney Football Stadium. The Pacific Islanders suffered a 66-8 mauling at Gateshead in 2000, which was only a minor improvement on their 66-0 defeat at Huddersfield in 1995.

With the NRL stars such as Jarryd Hayne, Wes Naiqama and the flying teenage winger Akuila Uate catching the eye in the qualifying rounds, Fiji will believe they can cause problems for Australia. The plucky Irish finished bloodied and bruised but they kept alive their dream in a tense and hard-fought first half at Skilled Park but were swept aside by superior opponents after the break. Andy Kelly's men were full of confidence and determination following their shock 34-16 win over highly-fancied Samoa and tackled heroically but they could not match their opponents for flair and skill in attack. Fiji captain Naiqama struck the first blow, scything past fullback Michael Platt for the opening try on two minutes after the lively scrum-half Aaron Groom had regathered possession from Simon Finnigan's charge-down.

The Newcastle Knights centre kicked the first of five goals to make it 6-0 but the scores were level on seven minutes when the Ireland right winger Damien Blanch took Sean Gleeson's neat pass and evaded Darryl Millard and Hayne on a thrilling 50-metre touchline run to claim his fourth try of the tournament. Pat Richards, the tournament's leading points-scorer after the preliminary stages, kicked the conversion but missed a 40-metre penalty that would have put the Irish in front. The Fijians always looked the more dangerous side and it needed a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Platt to halt Groom in full flight for the line. It was no surprise when the Pacific islanders regained the lead. Uate came off his right wing and evaded the back-pedalling Irish defence to touch down.

But the never-say-die Irish hit back five minutes before half-time when stand-off Scott Grix sidestepped his way through the Fiji defence for his team's second try. This time Richards' conversion attempt hit the outside of the right post, to leave the Irish trailing by two points. Richards failed to reach the heights of his man-of-the-match display against Samoa and his fumble almost gifted a try to Fiji substitute James Storer within two minutes of the restart. Ireland were hanging on at times but they almost scored a breakaway try when the scrum-half Karl Fitzpatrick broke clear but his fellow substitute Ged Corcoran was brought down by the Fijian cover. It proved to be Ireland's last chance as Fiji gradually wore them down.

The Stand-off Alipate Noilea carved out a try for the loose forward Jayson Bukuya, Hayne followed up a grubber kick from Groom and Uate took his try tally to five in three matches by taking Millard's pass to cross over in the corner. But Ireland had the final say when Blanch took an offload from second rower Lee Doran to score his fifth try of the tournament, matching the tally of Uate. *PA Sport