Facile victory provides a timely boost
In the greater scheme of things this will barely constitute a footnote in history, and allowing for the Fijians’ increasing rancour, a fairly bloodless one at that. But it will have constituted both a restorative shot in the arm for the Irish squad as well as a marker heralding Ulster’s new wave. Ireland’s future definitely has an orange hue.The most striking feature of the Irish line-up had been the presence of a half dozen Ulster players, including three uncapped young backs – and how they rose to their occasion. Between them, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy helped themselves to 33 points, with a hat-trick from Gilroy, while thrice-capped 25-year-old Darren Cave also crossed the whitewash.
This reflected their influence as well, all of them shining irreverently with polished and positive contributions from the very off to avail of some shapeless defending and soft Fijian inside shoulders particularly.
Aside from his typically unstinting work off the ball, Fergus McFadden also chipped in with a couple of muscular finishes but Gilroy’s were more classically winger’s tries, neatly holding his depth to finish off well-worked moves on either flank, either side of a 75-metre score off turnover ball.
He also availed of some Fijian disinterest under Conor Murray’s well-placed box kicks to chase well. His work in chasing down a Murray grubber and chip were instrumental in the second and third tries by McFadden and Seán Cronin.
And if Gilroy ultimately deserved his Man of the Match award, his biggest rival was probably Marshall. Afterwards Declan Kidney aplly used the word composed to describe Marshall’s performance.
Confidence on the ball
Aside from his strength on the ball, there’s his confidence on it too. The way he set up Gilroy’s first try showed an appreciation of space along with awareness and good hands, and he can straighten the line. He also displayed a real offloading game – something Ireland need more of.
He had a good boot, as he demonstrated along with a long punt, and even when he lost the ball a couple of times in contact and threw out a poor right to left pass, it never affected his confidence. One impressive little moment in the early stages of the second half when Ireland moved ball a little laterally also highlighted his awareness. Weighing up the situation, rather than ship bad ball or run into the converging outside defence he drilled a good touchfinder into the opposition 22.
Inside him Jackson pulled the strings with his customary f aplomb, and it was a barometer of how well he timed his passes to those outside him that he took at least four late hits for his troubles – at least one of which looked worthy of a citing.
Jackson operated off a steady supply of good quality ball from the Irish pack and Murray, who had an assured outing, also box-kicked, defended and ran well.
Mike Ross seemed to have some difficulties against one of Fiji’s late call-ups, the London Irish loosehead Jerry Yanuyanutawa. That said, the Irish scrum still provided an attacking platform for Murray, and the Irish scrum had also improved in the second half before Ross departed. Ross’s work-rate in the contact zone was good and Donncha O’Callaghan’s effective clearing out at ruck time prevented a couple of tries.