|Ireland (17) 23|
|Tries: Sweetnam, D Kearney, Conan Cons: Carbery Pen: Keatley 2|
|Fiji (10) 20|
|Tries: Senioli, T Nagusa Con: Volavola 2 Pens: Volavola 2|
Ireland laboured to an unconvincing sixth win in a row as they hung on to beat Fiji in an autumn Test in Dublin.
Tries by Darren Sweetnam, Dave Kearney and Jack Conan put Ireland 17-3 up after 35 minutes, but five minutes into the second half Fiji had drawn level.
Henry Senioli and Timoci Nagusa scored either side of the break with Ireland held scoreless for 32 minutes.
Ian Keatley came off the bench in an error-ridden game and nailed two late penalties to rescue Joe Schmidt’s side.
Ireland were hugely impressive last weekend as they clocked up a record 38-3 win over South Africa to kick off their autumn international series in style.
But head coach Schmidt made 13 changes for this game, giving a host of fringe players the chance to impress – but both individually and collectively, they failed to take the opportunity.
The intensity levels witnessed last week never materialised as Ireland, ranked fourth in the world, struggled to see off the enterprising visitors.
How did the young guns fare?
Ireland started with eight players with five caps or less – and it showed.
The lack of cohesiveness and unfamiliarity resulted in long periods of scrappy play from both sides, with the sell-out crowd at the Aviva Stadium relieving the boredom with a few rounds of Mexican waves.
Sweetnam caught the eye early on and dotted down in the corner after seven minutes of his first international start following a superb break by Joey Carbery.
Andrew Conway followed up his quality display on the wing against the Springboks with another good shift at fullback and his industry allowed Kearney to cross in the opposite corner.
Conan’s great pick-up off his boot laces and electric pace resulted in another try – his fourth for Ireland in just five appearances.
Despite not playing well and getting sucked into the loose, unstructured game favoured by Fiji, Ireland were 17-3 ahead before the visitors had their best spell either side of the interval.
Fiji enjoy first trip to Aviva
All three of these nations’ previous Test meetings were on Irish soil but it was a first game at the Aviva Stadium for the Pacific Islanders.
Senioli scored a brilliant counter-attacking try after a thunderous run down the wing by Nemani Nadolo and Ben Volavola converted to reduce the deficit to 17-10 at the break.
Kearney’s sloppy pass was intercepted by Timoci Nagusa, who jogged in under the posts to set up a nervous second half for the home side.
Fiji caused Ireland problems at the breakdown and the Irish lineout also malfunctioned as the inevitable replacements disrupted Ireland’s play.
Mixed bag for Carbery
This was a performance that will have answered few questions for Schmidt regarding his support cast.
It was a golden chance for Carbery, in his first start of the season at fly-half, to cement his place in the squad as Jonny Sexton’s deputy but he suffered a suspected arm fracture in the second half.
The 22-year-old made his debut at full-back in the famous win over New Zealand in Chicago 12 months ago but alongside Kieran Marmion, the new-look half-back pairing struggled to control proceedings.
He made one stunning line break for the opening try and pulled off several sparkling off-loads, but his kicking game, both from the tee and from hand, needs to improve if his international future is to be at fly-half.
Ireland complete their autumn international series against Argentina on 25 November, and the coach will be expected to waste little time in recalling all his first-choice players.
What they said:
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt: “I think Joey (Carbery) has fractured his left forearm.
“We can’t absolutely confirm it, but that looks to be the case.”
Fiji second-row Leone Nakarawa told Sky Sports: “It was a disappointing game for us, we did not play to our strengths or our system and that resulted in the disappointing loss.
“Things don’t end here. We are just building up this team for a better future and we will forget about this. But we knocked the ball on a lot and that is a lesson we need to learn moving forward.”
Ireland XV: 15-Andrew Conway; 14-Darren Sweetnam, 13-Chris Farrell, 12-Stuart McCloskey, 11-Dave Kearney; 10-Joey Carbery, 9-Kieran Marmion; 1-Jack McGrath, 2-Rob Herring, 3-A Porter, 4-Ultan Dillane, 5-Devin Toner, 6-Rhys Ruddock (capt), 7-Jordi Murphy, 8-Jack Conan.
Replacements: 16-James Tracy, 17-Cian Healy, 18-Tadhg Furlong, 19-Kieran Treadwell, 20-CJ Stander, 21-Luke McGrath, 22-Ian Keatley, 23-Rob Henshaw.
Fiji XV: 15-Kini Murimurivalu; 14-Timoci Nagusa, 13-Jale Vatabua, 12-Levani Botia, 11-Nemani Nadolo; 10-Ben Volavola, 9-Henry Senioli; 1-Campese Ma’afu, 2-Tuapati Talemaitoga, 3-Manasa Saulo, 4-Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 5-Leone Nakarawa, 6-Dominiko Waqaniburoto, 7-Akapusi Qera (capt), 8-Nemani Nagusa.
Replacements: 16-Sunia Koto, 17-Peni Ravai, 18-Kalivati Tawake, 19-Sikeli Nabou, 20- Peceli Yato, 21-Niko Matawalu, 22-Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 23-Vereniki Goneva.