Man-of-the-match Craig Gilroy cruised in for a hat-trick of tries as an Ireland XV ran out comfortable winners over Fiji at Thomond Park.
The result was a timely boost for the Ireland squad before they meet Argentina in next Saturday’s crunch GUINNESS Series clash at the Aviva Stadium.
The Ulster contingent was to the fore in rainy Limerick with the uncapped trio of Craig Gilroy (3 tries), Luke Marshall (1 try) and Paddy Jackson (5 conversions and a penalty) accumulating 33 points between them.
Their provincial colleague Darren Cave also weighed in with a try, while Leinster duo Fergus McFadden (2) and Sean Cronin also touched down for the hosts.
Fiji, trailing 29-0 at half-time, upped their efforts in the second half and went close to breaking their scoring duck before the Ireland selection signed off with three tries in the closing 12 minutes.
The result brought back memories of the last time the Ireland senior side managed to break the half-century mark in a home game – Declan Kidney’s first match in charge against Canada (55-0) four years ago at the very same venue.
The 17,126-strong crowd did not have long to wait for the opening points of this non-cap international with Jackson confidently slotting a seventh minute penalty.
Ireland built some early structure with Dan Tuohy and John Muldoon gobbling up restarts and a solid scrum giving captain Jamie Heaslip and Conor Murray the chance to launch breaks from the base.
A lovely show-and-go from Marshall saw him speed through a gap on the right, and the centre’s well-timed pass put Gilroy in for his first try past Watisoni Votu.
A fine conversion followed from the 20-year-old Jackson and although the Fijians responded with a decent spell of possession, the Irish carried more of an attacking threat.
The control was there again when Gilroy gathered a Murray kick and the ball was swept out to the left where Cave fed McFadden, who came in off the wing and did very well to get downward pressure for his opening score.
Television match official Gareth Simmonds confirmed the grounding and Jackson fired over the conversion for a 17-0 advantage.
Barely a minute later, Gilroy showed his ability again on the right as he collected a loose ball and sidestepped his way past two covering players.
Ireland kept the move going at pace and after Cave was stopped short, Murray passed for hooker Cronin to muscle over from a metre out.
Jackson added the extras again and a terrific touch-finding kick from the former Ireland Under-20 captain, on the half hour, set up the phase which led to Cave’s touchdown.
The lineout was won and lock Tuohy took it up in front of the posts before the onrushing Cave waltzed easily past Leone Nakawara and stretched over past Nikola Matawalu’s despairing challenge.
The strong running of Marshall and McFadden tested the sluggish Fijian defence soon after, and but for a spilt pass flanker Muldoon would have scored just to the right of the posts.
Jackson slid an injury-time penalty wide, but Ireland wasted little time in adding to their try tally in the opening minutes of the second period.
Four minutes in, Heaslip drew in two defenders and flicked a one-handed offload away for McFadden to break through on the right, dotting down despite the presence of two covering Fijians.
Jackson was back on target with the conversion, however the third quarter was marked by the scrappiness of play from both sides.
Ireland failed to score while Fijian replacement Timoci Matanavou was in the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on Murray. In fact, the tourists started to find some rhythm with Vereniki Goneva and Votu getting on the ball.
Inoke Male’s charges pressed for an opening five metres out, yet Ireland defended stoutly with Heaslip and Cronin putting in crucial tackles and the hard-working Iain Henderson ripping the ball free from scrum half Matawalu.
Fresh legs were called for in the final 20 minutes with another uncapped player, Paul Marshall, being added to the back-line mix.
Chris Henry, one of the Irish replacements, saw yellow for a tackle infringement and as the game became increasingly fractured, a second Fijian entered the sin-binned – replacement hooker Tuapati Talemaitoga was punished for a late challenge on Gilroy.
It was Ireland’s cue to reassert their dominance, Heaslip and Paul Marshall initiating an attack from a scrum on the 22 and Jackson and Simon Zebo both delivered pinpoint passes to unleash Gilroy for a five-pointer.
Jackson, who shipped a heavy tackle in the build-up, missed the conversion from the left before Fiji rumbled forward once more in search an elusive score.
With eight minutes remaining, a dropped pass was seized upon by Cave. Jackson swiftly released Gilroy to scamper out of the 22 past two Fijians and the pacy winger broke Matanavou’s attempted tackle to breeze in under the posts and register his hat-trick.
Jackson tagged on the conversion to complete his 13-point haul and Luke Marshall, one of the busiest men on the pitch, finished off the try-scoring in the final minute after a neat dummy and pass from Henderson.