A spirited USA side, who only trailed by 12-9 at one stage, fell away in the second half as late tries from Frank Murphy, Mark McCrea and Denis Hurley saw Ireland ‘A’ run out 46-9 winners in Wednesday’s Barclays Churchill Cup Pool B clash in Kingston.
2008 BARCLAYS CHURCHILL CUP – POOL B: Wednesday, June 11
IRELAND ‘A’ 46 USA 9, Richardson Stadium, Kingston
Scorers: Ireland ‘A’: Tries: Kieran Lewis, Penalty try, Neil Best 2, Frank Murphy, Mark McCrea, Denis Hurley; Cons: Jonathan Sexton, Ian Keatley 3; Pen: Jonathan Sexton
USA: Pens: Mike Hercus 3
Ireland ‘A’ beat the USA 28-13 at the 2006 Churchill Cup but despite the bigger margin this time between the sides, this was an altogether tougher game for the men in green.
Allen Clarke’s men had to fight for every score as the Americans, despite the four-day turnaround from their 64-10 loss to England Saxons, were combative throughout and it was only in the final quarter that Ireland ‘A’ were able to stretch away.
Ireland ‘A’ fielded a team that included six senior-capped players as well as some of the brightest prospects in Irish rugby – Munster’s Heineken Cup-winning heroes Denis Hurley and Tomas O’Leary being just two of them.
Ireland ‘A’ made a good start with Leinster out-half Jonathan Sexton distributing well in midfield. Sexton, who missed an early penalty, set up a clean break for Roger Wilson but the Ulsterman’s pass to the supporting Keith Earls was off target.
They did not have long to wait for their first try. 12 minutes in, the American midfield was again sliced open, Sexton teed up Earls for an angled run through a gap and the youngsters’ centre partner Kieran Lewis was on his shoulder to take his popped pass and score to the left of the posts.
Sexton missed the conversion and for the next quarter-hour, Ireland ‘A’ struggled to get their hands on the ball. The powerfully-built Americans love the rough and tumble of forward play and their pack came more and more into the game, less by indestructible captain Todd Clever.
With Mike Hercus and the tireless Paul Emerick performing well behind the scrum, the USA got themselves off the mark with Hercus landing his second penalty attempt of the evening.
Ireland ‘A’ were conceding too many penalties around the fringes and although the scrum was solid, the lineout was a cause for concern with some miscommunication between Denis Fogarty and his jumpers.
As ever, Neil Best was throwing himself into everything and the Ulster flanker set the tone with some big hits. But with the Americans bossing possession, Ireland ‘A’ could not get into their attacking patterns.
They did get a timely penalty try on the half-hour mark when the American scrum creeked on a couple of occasions and Cian Healy, Fogarty and Mike Ross got the better of their direct opponents.
Sexton’s conversion was cancelled out by a second Hercus penalty as the USA ended the half in good stead and with just a 12-6 deficit to overcome.
A degree of niggle crept into the game before the interval with Clever and Johnny O’Connor clashing and the Americans not liking Earls’ tackle on Emerick near the left touchline.
Into the second half, the Irish lineout were a little more consistent but Fogarty was soon called ashore with his Munster colleague Sean Cronin brought into the fray.
A third Hercus penalty, after 51 minutes, closed the gap to 12-9 and the Saxons, who play Ireland ‘A’ in a winner-takes-all game in Toronto on Saturday, must have been licking their lips.
But, to their credit, Ireland ‘A’ quickly wrestled back control of the game. After a well-marshalled lineout maul, Best broke away to touch down three minutes after Hercus’ kick.
Emerick charged down Sexton’s conversion attempt but the Irish number 10 soon knocked over a central penalty for a 20-9 score-line.
The Irish management emptied the bench for the final quarter and that move paid dividends as the tempo found an extra gear and began to exploit the space in the American defence.
Frank Murphy, Donnacha Ryan and David Pollock all made good impressions as replacements and will have certainly increased the competition for places against the Saxons.
With the help of Ross, Best piled over for his second try from close range. The USA then lost prop Mike MacDonald to a yellow card and Ireland ‘A’ took further advantage.
Before the sin-binning, full-back Hurley launched a tremendous counter attack that should have led to a try. The Corkman made 70 metres before he was hauled down.
Yet Ireland ‘A’ clinically saw out the game, showing a glimpse of what they can do with a consistent supply of ball in hand. As the Americans began to wilt, scrum half Murphy twisted and turned and made the line off a ground-gaining scrum.
Ian Keatley, who was sprung from the bench for a battered and bruised Sexton, landed the conversion and the Connacht-bound out-half also converted injury-time tries by Mark McCrea and Hurley as Ireland ‘A’ belatedly cut loose.
Their last two tries were probably the best of the night. A lovely inside pass from Wilson put McCrea charging through and in under the posts after some great hands from Ryan, Trevor Hogan and Pollock.
Ryan handed off an American forward and made 15 metres in the lead-up to Hurley’s score. The ball was swung out to the left when Hurley was able to step off his left and make the line.
Mission accomplished and a good run-out for all 22 Irish players but a much better effort will be needed to challenge the Saxons on Saturday, with a place in next week’s final against Scotland ‘A’ in the offing.
TIME LINE: 7 minutes – Ireland ‘A’ penalty: missed by Jonathan Sexton – 0-0; 12 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Kieran Lewis – 5-0; conversion: missed by Jonathan Sexton – 5-0; 16 mins – USA penalty: missed by Mike Hercus – 5-0; 23 mins – USA penalty: Mike Hercus – 5-3; 31 mins – Ireland try: Penalty try – 10-3; conversion: Jonathan Sexton – 12-3; 35 mins – USA penalty: Mike Hercus – 12-6; Half-time – Ireland ‘A’ 12 USA 6; 51 mins – USA penalty: Mike Hercus – 12-9; 54 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Neil Best – 17-9; conversion: missed by Jonathan Sexton – 17-9; 60 mins – Ireland ‘A’ penalty: Jonathan Sexton – 20-9; 65 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Neil Best – 25-9; conversion: missed by Jonathan Sexton – 25-9; 76 mins – USA yellow card: Mike MacDonald; 79 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Frank Murphy – 30-9; conversion: Ian Keatley – 32-9; 80+1 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Mark McCrea – 37-9; conversion: Ian Keatley – 39-9; 80+8 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Denis Hurley – 44-9; conversion: Ian Keatley – 46-9; Full-time – Ireland ‘A’ 46 USA 9
IRELAND ‘A’: Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster); Mark McCrea (Malone/Ulster), Kieran Lewis (Garryowen/Munster), Keith Earls (Garryowen/Munster), Brian Tuohy (Cornish Pirates); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Denis Fogarty (Cork Constitution/Munster), Mike Ross (Harlequins), Bob Casey (London Irish) (capt), Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster), Neil Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Johnny O’Connor (Corinthians/Connacht), Roger Wilson (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster).
Replacements used: Ian Keatley (Clontarf/Leinster) for Sexton (blood sub, 40+4 mins-half-time), David Pollock (Dungannon/Ulster) for O’Connor (49), Sean Cronin (Shannon/Munster) for Fogarty (52), Frank Murphy (Leicester) for O’Leary (56), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) for Caldwell (59), Tom Court (Malone/Ulster) for Ross, Trevor Hogan (Shannon/Leinster) for Casey (both 67), Keatley for Sexton (69).
USA: Chris Wyles (Old Mission Beach Athletic Club); Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz), Paul Emerick (Newport Gwent Dragons), Vaha Esikia (Las Vegas Blackjacks), Justin Boyd (Texas A&M); Mike Hercus (IBM, Japan), Mike Petri (NYAC); Mike MacDonald (Leeds Carnegie), Mark Crick (Potomac Athletic Club), Mate Moeakiola (Pukekohe, New Zealand), Ben Wiedemer (Belmont Shore), Brian Doyle (NYAC), Todd Clever (Old Mission Beach AC) (capt), Jason Lett (Boston Irish Wolfhounds), Kort Schubert (Olympic Club).
Replacements used: Louis Stanfill (UC Berkeley) for Clever (blood sub, 19-23 mins), Salesi Sika (Beziers) for Hercus (blood sub, 43-45), Mone Laulaupea’alu (San Francisco Golden Gate) for Crick, Mark Aylor (Life University) for Lett (both 67), Robbie Shaw (Galwegians/Connacht) for Petri (68), Valanese Malifa (Belmont Shore) for (76).
Referee: Frederico Cuesta (Argentina)