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Shaky Start From Ireland As Namibia Take The Plaudits

Shaky Start From Ireland As Namibia Take The Plaudits

Ireland were far from convincing winners in their opening match of the 2007 Rugby World Cup tonight, as Pool D outsiders Namibia outshone them in the second half.

2007 RUGBY WORLD CUP – POOL D: Sunday, September 9

IRELAND 32 NAMIBIA 17, Stade Chaban Delmas (Att: 33,945)

Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Brian O’Driscoll, Andrew Trimble, Simon Easterby, Penalty try, Jerry Flannery; Cons: Ronan O’Gara 2; Pen: Ronan O’Gara
Namibia: Tries: Jacques Nieuwenhuis, Piet van Zyl; Cons: Emile Wessels 2; Pen: Emile Wessels

MatchDay Live – As It Happened

This was a performance best forgotten as despite going 15-0 in front inside the first quarter, Ireland left their ‘A’ game on the training pitch and seemingly had a dose of the first night jitters.

Ireland took to the Stade Chaban Delmas sward with virtually a full strength line-up, with the fit-again Brian O’Driscoll and David Wallace back in tow.

And with the near perfect weather conditions, there was well-founded talk of Eddie O’Sullivan’s men bettering or at least testing their record World Cup win of 64-7 over the same opposition four years ago.

Team captain O’Driscoll called for his side to “throw down a marker” in their opening pool game, and typically the Leinster centre showed the way by dotting down a fifth-minute try.

Ireland won the lion’s share of possession in the early stages and after a swift left wing break by full-back Girvan Dempsey, second phase ball saw O’Driscoll dink a kick over the top of the Namibian defence and shrug off the challenge of full-back Tertius Losper to open the scoring.

O’Driscoll’s 30th international try, which put him ahead of Denis Hickie in the all-time try-scoring stakes, was converted by O’Gara who then brilliantly teed up Andrew Trimble for Ireland’s second touchdown.

O’Gara took Ireland into double figures with a well-struck penalty before he created the opening for Trimble’s try. The Irish number 10 coolly took a quick tap and sent a pin-point cross-field kick out to the right for the Ulster youngster to rise highest and bag his fourth try in as many games, following efforts last month against Scotland, Bayonne and Italy.

O’Gara failed to add the extras and was also wayward when attempting to convert flanker Simon Easterby’s try on the half-hour, which came after a purposeful lineout maul.

However, Ireland were playing nowhere near top gear and worryingly never looked like they would despite dominating in the scrum and having a large chunk of possession during the opening 30 minutes.

A big concern was the amount of poor handling on show as Ireland displayed a distinct lack of composure when looking to create an opening – the killer pass was looked for too often instead of building through the phases.

A couple of missed lineouts and poor support play at the breakdown from the men in green allowed the Namibians to grow in stature before the interval.

The minutes leading up to half-time saw the lowest ranked team in the tournament heap pressure on the Irish try line. Credit must go to some hard-hitting defence from Ireland, but Namibia should have been made more of those chances and they had to settle for an injury-time penalty from out-half Emile Wessels, who had missed an earlier effort, to open their scoring account.

20-3 in front at the break, Ireland were a long way short of the 60-point winning margin that many pundits and bookmakers had predicted.

Pressure from John Hayes on his direct opponent Kees Lensing, who was immediately replaced, saw Namibia drop two scrums close to their try line after the restart and referee Joel Jutge responded by awarding Ireland a penalty try.

O’Gara slotted the conversion through the uprights to crown Ireland’s bonus point-clinching try and move his side 27-3 clear.

The large Irish contingent in the crowd were baying for more tries, but it was Namibia’s turn to dominant up to the hour mark and willed on by the locals in attendance, who ironically began chanting ‘Allez les Bleus!’, it was soon try time for the workmanlike Africans as they sent flanker Jacques Nieuwenhuis crashing over to the right of the posts.

Man of the match Ryan Witbooi sped through a gap in the Irish defence and despite a last-gasp tackle from Dempsey, the winger managed to pop a pass for Nieuwenhuis to gather and cross the whitewash.

Wessels made it a seven-pointer and it was joy on the double for Namibia just four minutes later when centre Piet van Zyl touched down.

A left wing charge by Heini Bock ended with the ball breaking into the path of van Zyl who hacked it on with his left foot and edged out Dempsey in a foot race, with TV match official Paul Marks confirming the score.

Once again Wessels converted and Ireland’s lead was suddenly down to ten points. Namibia, with their back row unit in fine form, were playing all the rugby at this stage and although the Irish lead was never truly threatened, Hakkies Husselman’s charges were still proving that with the right combination of all-round ability and sheer heart and determination, amateurs can be more than a match for professional players.

The Africans continued to take the game to Ireland and a series of unforced handling errors did little to boost the confidence of the Triple Crown winners.

But a quick left wing dart from O’Driscoll, who lined with Hickie and then offloaded for replacement hooker Jerry Flannery, ensured Ireland nabbed their fifth try with just five minutes left on the clock.

The grounding was questionable however as, on second viewing, it looked as if Flannery did not have control of the ball as he was tackled over the try line. The score was awarded nonetheless, with O’Gara’s conversion attempt off target. Namibia looked for a late riposte but Ireland, who used five of their replacements in all, were able to shut up shop.

The five pool points were Ireland’s at the finish but the plaudits certainly went to Namibia who enjoyed a well-earned lap of honour after the final whistle.

On this evidence, their hunt for a first World Cup win could well come to an end on September 26 when they face fellow outsiders Georgia.

For Ireland, it is a case of going back to the drawing board. A week of hard work and hard stares in the mirror lays ahead for O’Sullivan’s squad. The players let themselves and the country down by this performance and they know it. Expect some retribution next Saturday against Georgia.

It is wake-up call number two after the near defeat to Italy – they simply cannot afford another one. Can they find their rhythm again in the coming weeks? Definitely.

They are likely to head to Paris for their September 21 clash with France as pool leaders and with a little payback on their minds, as Denis Leamy admitted: “Losing to France at Croke Park was heart-breaking. It was a horrible feeling and we haven’t forgotten.”

Their displays can only get better after recent showings – Ireland were also slow out of the traps in recent Six Nations championships but came good, so the belief has to be there that they will improve. From disjointed to dazzling in the space of two weeks, it’s still possible.

TIME LINE: 5 minutes – Ireland try: Brian O’Driscoll – 5-0; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 7-0; 17 mins – Ireland penalty: Ronan O’Gara – 10-0; 20 mins – Ireland try: Andrew Trimble – 15-0; conversion: missed by Ronan O’Gara; 30 mins – Ireland try: Simon Easterby – 20-0; conversion: missed by Ronan O’Gara; 40+1 mins – Namibia penalty: Emile Wessels – 20-3; Half-time – Ireland 20 Namibia 3; 48 mins – Ireland try: Penalty try – 25-0; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 27-0; 60 mins – Namibia try: Jacques Nieuwenhuis – 27-8; conversion: Emile Wessels – 27-10; 64 mins – Namibia try: Piet van Zyl – 27-15; conversion: Emile Wessels – 27-17; 76 mins – Ireland try: Jerry Flannery – 32-17; conversion: missed by Ronan O’Gara; Full-time – Ireland 32 Namibia 17

IRELAND: Girvan Dempsey; Andrew Trimble, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gordon D’Arcy, Denis Hickie; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Rory Best, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Simon Easterby, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.

Replacements used: Jerry Flannery for R Best (62 mins), Simon Best for Horan (63), Neil Best for D Wallace (69), Paddy Wallace for O’Gara (80), Geordan Murphy for O’Driscoll (80+2). Not used: Malcolm O’Kelly, Isaac Boss.

NAMIBIA: Tertius Losper; Ryan Witbooi, Bratley Langenhoven, Piet van Zyl, Heini Bock; Emile Wessels, Eugene Jantjies; Kees Lensing (capt), Hugo Horn, Jane du Toit, Wacca Kazombiaze, Nico Esterhuize, Jacques Nieuwenhuis, Heino Senekal, Jacques Burger.

Replacements used: Michael MacKenzie for Senekal (22 mins), Johnny Redelinghuys for Lensing (50), Jurie van Tonder for Jantjies (51), Tinu du Plessis for Burger (67-69, blood sub), Johannes Meyer for Horn (77), Lensing for Redelinghuys (78), Melrick Africa for Witbooi (80+2). Not used: Lu-Wayne Botes.

Referee: Joel Jutge (France)
Touch Judges: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland), Federico Cuesta (Argentina)
Television Match Official: Paul Marks (Australia)