Ireland 71 USA 10
On an idyllic sunny evening in Dublin, this was the largest crowd at a rugby game in Ireland for almost a year and a half. The 6,000 in attendance was double the total last week and the roar after the anthems was certainly twice as loud. In return, they were treated to something akin to exhibition rugby.
Ireland ran in 10 tries to one, with four of them dotted down by Rónan Kelleher, who sure has an eye for the try line. Rumour has it that he was wanted by Warren Gatland for the Lions’ pre-tour game against Japan and could soon be bound to join the tourists.
Ireland operated off quick ball almost without interruption, had more offloads in this game than probably the rest of the season and after the USA were reduced to 14 men after a red card for Pretoria-born flanker Riekert Hattingh, used the wide-wide game to maximum effect.
The fun was started by Robert Baloucoune, who scored within 17 minutes of his debut with a breathtaking finish. In one gallop he was a crowd favourite and every time he touched the ball there was a buzz of anticipation – the same also being true of Andrew Conway on his return before departing at half-time.
Nick Timoney also scored on debut as did Gavin Coombes in his first start, and were it not for Kelleher’s exploits one ventures Coombes would have been the man-of-the-match. He graced this one-sided romp with wonderful handling as well as ballast.
Caelan Doris ought to have had one or two to augment another classy display and with Jack Conan on Lions duty suddenly Ireland are awash with ‘8s’ in the post-CJ era.
Craig Casey, another making his first start, had a pleasing zip to his game and it was good to see Joey Carbery purring in a green shirt again, varying his game nicely, prepared to take on contact and pulling the strings smoothly.
These two games have underlined that there is a lot more to Stuart McCloskey’s game than straight hard carrying, James Hume looked a class act and Hugo Keenan again seemed to be everywhere in his 13th successive Test start.
In addition to the four starting debutants, another four were given an introduction to Test rugby which, admittedly, doesn’t come much more gentle this. Demoralised even before they were depleted, from the outset the Eagles’ defence had more holes than a soup-strainer.
Initially, the Eagles were full of endeavour and ambition, misleadingly spending much of the first 15 minutes deep in Irish territory. Thrice they turned down kicks in front of the posts for Luke Carty to kick to the corner as they backed their maul, which had driven over the English line twice last week.
But thrice the Irish pack defended the maul and all that huffing and puffing seemed to take more out of the USA pack.
Like last week, the Irish lineout twice malfunctioned early on, but the first that worked saw McCloskey shape to truck it up, only to pull back for Carbery, who went off script with a dummy, half-break and sumptuous offload for Conway to break clear.
James Ryan instructed Carbery to take three points before Ireland opened a porous USA midfield again off a lineout from deep.
Again McCloskey pulled the ball back for Carbery, who put Baloucoune through an inviting gap as the Eagles were bamboozled by three decoy runs. Whereupon Baloucoune bamboozled Mike Te’o and Ruben de Hass, turning them 360 degrees as he veered back to his right in that Doug Howlett-like manner of his and accelerated clear.
No sooner had Carty finally taken three points than Ryan turned three down to go to the corner, where Kelleher hit Ryan and after a sustained drive had the touchdown.
After Coombes released Conway for a sprint up the narrowest of corridors along the touchline, several phases later Keenan grubbered for Conway to chase and Te’o fumbled over the touchline. Cue Kelleher hitting Ryan once more and this time Timoney scored off the drive.
The fourth was probably the pick of the 10.
From inside the 22, again Carbery took the pull back and again Coombes released Conway up the touchline once more. This time Conway regathered his quick-witted little grubber and linked with Keenan to put the supporting Kelleher over. Some mobility and pace for a hooker.
There might have been a fifth by the break. Conway calling and winning a sharp box kick by Casey for Tom O’Toole to claim the deflection and start a sequence of offloads by him, Conway and Ryan only for a double tackle to knock the ball from Doris’s grasp.
The first half ended with Doris having the ball dislodged from his hands after some lovely interlinking between forwards and backs.
It was but a brief stay of execution for the Eagles, as another lineout drive led to another Kelleher try.
After Hattingh’s 54th-minute red card the floodgates opened. After lengthy deliberation, Mathieu Raynal adjudged that Hattingh, the son of a Springbok and who plays on the edge, caught Kelleher on the chin with his shoulder, although the initial contact seemed just below that.
In any event, Ireland could cut loose. To begin with, from the ensuing penalty for Hattingh’s high hit, Kelleher showed no ill effects as he wriggled over from another lineout drive.
Another break by Hume led to Will Addison finding Baloucoune on the touchline with a bounce pass and his offload afforded McCloskey a strong finish in the corner to bring up the half century, Harry Byrne hitting the post with Ireland’s only miss.
After Coombes won turnover ball on the deck Keenan called for and raced on to McCloskey’s chip into a completely unguarded backfield.
Baloucoune was wrongly denied one try and then after another gallop and offload inside by the Enniskillen flyer, Coombes seemed to be wrongly denied a touchdown.
No matter, helped by Paul Boyle, he soon powered over off Caolin Blade’s pass after Keenan probably should have given Addison the try-scoring pass.
To their credit, the USA drew some energy from their bench and their pack’s close-in driving was rewarded with a consolation score by Michael Baska. But, off a lineout steal by Doris and more running amok by Balouocoune, Blade was inches away from a debut try before his Connacht mate Finlay Bealham plunged over. Addison even landed the touchline conversion.
Smiles all round.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 8 mins: Carbery pen 3-0; 17: Baloucoune try, Carbery con 10-0; 19: Carty pen 10-3; 24: Kelleher try, Carbery con 17-3; 27: Timoney try, Carbery con 24-3; 30: Kelleher try, Carbery con try 31-3; (half-time 31-3); 44: Kelleher try, Carbery con 38-3; 54: Kelleher try, Byrne con 45-3; 56: McCloskey try 50-3; 62: Keenan try, Byrne con 57-3; 71: Coombes try, Byrne con 64-3; 78: Baska try, Magie con 64-10; 82: Bealham try, Addison con 71-10.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Robert Baloucoune (Ulster), James Hume (Ulster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Andrew Conway (Munster); Joey Carbery (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster); Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Tom O’Toole (Ulster); Ryan Baird (Leinster), James Ryan (Leinster, capt); Caelan Doris (Leinster), Nick Timoney (Ulster), Gavin Coombes (Munster).
Replacements: Will Addison (Ulster) for Conway (h-t), Paul Boyle (Connacht) for Timoney, Harry Byrne (Leinster) for Carbery (both 54), Dave Heffernan (Connacht) for Kelleher, Ed Byrne (Leinster for Kilcoyne (both 55), Fineen Wycherley (Munster) for Baird (58 mins), Caolin Blade (Connacht) for Casey (60 mins), Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for O’Toole (73 mins).
USA: Mike Te’o (Utah Warriors); Christian Dyer (USA Sevens), Calvin Whiting (Utah Warriors), Bryce Campbell (Austin Gilgronis, capt), Mika Kruse (Utah Warriors); Luke Carty (LA Giltinis), Ruben de Haas (Austin Gilgronis); David Ainu’u (Toulouse), Joe Taufete’e (Lyon), Paul Mullen (Utah Warriors); Gregory Peterson (Newcastle Falcons), Nick Civetta (Rugby United New York); Hanco Germishuys (Rugby United New York), Riekert Hattingh (Seattle Seawolves), Cam Dolan (Nola Gold).
Replacements: Nate Brakeley (Rugby United New York) for Petersen (h-t), Kapeli Pifeleti (Saracens) for Taufete’e (48), Dino Waldren (Nola Gold) for Mullen (58), Michael Baska (Utah Warriors) for de Haas (59), Will Magie (Austin) for Dyer (64), Psalm Wooching (San Diego Legion) for Germishuys (66), Matt Harmon (Nola Gold) for Ainu’u (68), Dyer for Carty (70), Andrew Guerra (Nola Gold) for Dolan (73).
Red card: Hattingh (54 mins).
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).