12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
IRELAND 41 FIJI 6, The RDS
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Keith Earls 2, Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Shane Horgan; Cons: Jonathan Sexton 5; Pens: Jonathan Sexton 2
Fiji: Pens: Nicky Little 2
Jonathan Sexton contributed 16 points as he made a highly impressive start to his Test career, guiding Ireland to a comfortable victory over Fiji in front of a 17,427-strong RDS crowd.
Stepping into the shoes of Ronan O'Gara, the Leinster out-half landed five conversions - three from the touchline - and two penalties on the way to winning the GUINNESS man-of-the-match award.
Just twelve months on from his own senior bow, winger Keith Earls contributed two of the five tries with the others coming from skipper Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and the recalled Shane Horgan.
Sexton, looking to boost his chances of featuring against South Africa next week, made the best possible start. Despite the difficult wet and windy conditions, he was able to gather inside his own 22 and make an eye-catching defence.
Better was to come when Sexton put Ireland 3-0 ahead with a penalty after ten minutes as both teams took their time to get to grips with the conditions.
A perfectly-judged crossfield kick from Sexton very nearly brought about the first try as Earls gathered but Kearney was stopped just short of the line.
However, almost immediately, Earls went in for the first try behind the posts after an O'Driscoll decoy run and Eoin Reddan's pinpoint pass put him through a gap. Sexton's conversion stretched Ireland's lead to 10 points.
Eventually, Fiji began to secure some better possession, allowing their experienced out-half Nicky Little to reduce the deficit to 10-3 with a well-struck penalty.
The Fijians did well to hang in given Ireland were providing them with increasing problems in the scrums, but the home team failed to take advantage from their set piece advantage and were then forced to defend close to their own line.
Another big scrum which saw them push the visitors off their own ball relieved the pressure and it was only then Ireland really began to open up.
Once again, Sexton was involved, breaking out from his own half but the move finished with Gordon D'Arcy's pass, which was intended for the supporting Horgan, being intercepted by Fiji full-back Norman Ligairi.
But the pressure told just before half-time with Sexton landing his second penalty to leave Ireland 13-3 clear at the interval.
The Fijians, who lost 23-10 to Scotland last week, badly needed some encouragement and they got it with a second penalty from Little in the early stages of the second half, reducing Ireland's lead to 13-6.
To add to Ireland's problems, flanker Denis Leamy had to be stretchered off with an injury to his right leg. Leinster tyro Sean O'Brien came on to make his debut at this level.
Fiji then conceded a frustrating try as Little saw O'Driscoll intercept his pass and run 40 metres to score with Sexton's conversion giving Ireland a 20-6 advantage and some breathing space.
With Tomas O'Leary on as a replacement at scrum half for Reddan and Tony Buckley taking over from John Hayes in the front row, Ireland looked for more scores as the game went into the final quarter and the crowd was soon rewarded with a third try.
A well-worked move - the ball travelled smoothly along from O'Leary, O'Driscoll and D'Arcy - was finished off in the left corner by Earls.
Sexton kicked the difficult conversion, leaving Ireland 27-6 clear and in complete control.
Kearney, who did well to get the ball down under pressure from Mosese Rauluni, and Horgan, whose workmanlike performance deserved a try, added further touchdowns with the accurate Sexton landing both conversions from the touchline.
Job done, Declan Kidney and Ireland can look forward to taking on Tri Nations champions South Africa next Saturday at Croke Park (kick-off 2.30pm).
The second half against Fiji certainly saw Ireland find an extra gear or two in attack and Kidney and company will have some welcome selection headaches to work through before the team to face the Springboks is announced on Tuesday.
TIME LINE: 10 minutes - Ireland penalty: Jonathan Sexton - 3-0; 19 mins - Ireland try: Keith Earls - 8-0; conversion: Jonathan Sexton - 10-0; 25 mins - Fiji penalty: missed by Nicky Little - 10-0; 28 mins - Fiji penalty: Nicky Little - 10-3; 40+1 mins - Ireland penalty: Jonathan Sexton - 13-3; Half-time - Ireland 13 Fiji 3; 44 mins - Fiji penalty: Nicky Little - 13-6; 46 mins - Ireland try: Brian O'Driscoll - 18-6; conversion: Jonathan Sexton - 20-6; 63 mins - Ireland try: Keith Earls - 25-6; conversion: Jonathan Sexton - 27-6; 68 mins - Ireland try: Rob Kearney - 32-6; conversion: Jonathan Sexton - 34-6; 76 mins - Ireland try: Shane Horgan - 39-6; conversion: Jonathan Sexton - 41-6; Full-time - Ireland 41 Fiji 6
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Tom Court, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Leo Cullen, Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris, Denis Leamy, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Sean O'Brien for Leamy (44 mins, inj), Tomas O'Leary for Reddan (55), Tony Buckley for Hayes (61), Andrew Trimble for O'Driscoll, Donncha O'Callaghan for O'Connell (both 68), Sean Cronin for Flannery (73), Paddy Wallace for Kearney (75).
FIJI: Norman Ligairi; Vereniki Goneva, Gabiriele Lovobalavu, Seremaia Bai (capt), Nasoni Roko; Nicky Little, Mosese Rauluni; Asaike Tarogi, Viliame Veikoso, Viliame Seuseu, Wame Lewaravu, Ifereimi Rawaqa, Apolosi Satala, Akapusi Qera, Asaeli Boko.
Replacements used: Leone Nakarawa for Rawaqa (half-time), Timoci Nagusa for Ligairi (53 mins), Graham Dewes for Tarogi, Isireli Ledua for Veikoso, Samu Bola for Qera (all 66), Josh Matavesi for Bai (80). Not used: Waisale Vatuvoka.
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
|Ireland Score Card|
|Fiji Score Card|