Ireland 20-10 Samoa, Aviva Stadium, November 13
Ireland stutter past Samoa
November 13, 2010
Luke Fitzgerald sidesteps the Samoa cover during the clash at Lansdowne Road
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Ireland ended their six-match losing streak but will remain deeply concerned by their deteriorating form after struggling to a 20-10 victory over Samoa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.
Ronan O'Gara finished with a 10-point haul but it was not until his 66th-minute try that the Irish, who entered the match as much as 1/66 favourites, took control.
No.8 Jamie Heaslip crossed in the first-half to help them into a 10-0 lead that was pegged back by a try from Leicester winger Alesana Tuilagi.
Facing their weakest opposition of the autumn and a team ranked outside the world's top 10, they toiled woefully in the third quarter. Indeed, had Samoa made better use of their enormous superiority in possession and territory, Declan Kidney's side would surely have been facing a second defeat of the month.
The Irish scrum, anchored by props John Hayes and Tom Court, was overwhelmed in a department where they were supposed to have the ascendancy. It was only when Cian Healy and Rory Best came on that the set-piece was bolstered and it was this change in fortunes that preceded O'Gara's try. But the result fails to mask the fact that in World Cup year Ireland have significant problems that must be urgently addressed by Kidney.
Samoa, containing nine players from the Aviva Premiership and French Top 14, looked more dangerous when they abandoned the structured gameplan that blunted their attacking instincts and will view this as a missed opportunity.
The Pacific Nations Cup holders' siva tau was greeted by only a 30,955 crowd at Aviva Stadium with pre-match fears of another low attendance proving correct. And the likelihood of many of the crowd returning looks bleak after another poor spectacle at Lansdowne Road, which was swept with rain all afternoon.
O'Gara settled Irish nerves with a penalty moments into the game but it was due to sound defence from Tommy Bowe that their lead was not immediately overturned. A fine tackle saw Bowe fell Tuilagi as the Leicester winger charged for the left corner, thwarting a strong attack from Samoa.
Brian O'Driscoll ran down several blind alleys before knocking on, victim of some typically robust tackling from the South Sea Islanders. It was a competitive, finely-balanced opening quarter that was lit up when Ireland broke from their 22 through side-stepping full-back Luke Fitzgerald only to eventually run out of options in support.
Their tails up, the Irish renewed the assault through their pack and were rewarded when a series of pick and goes concluded with Heaslip driving over. O'Gara converted. Samoa's response was emphatic with a second penalty against prop Tom Court at a scrum enabling them to set up a superb field position. A great pick up by fly-half Tasesa Lavea and rapid hands from Seilala Mapusua released Tuilagi, who came marauding off his wing to cross under the posts with Lavea converting.
Ireland's problems at the scrum continued, a five-metre attacking platform ending when referee Keith Brown decided Hayes was guilty of collapsing. But with five minutes of the half remaining Ireland worked their way back into the opposition 22 and, spying acres of space on the left, O'Gara expertly changed the points of attack but ruined his quick thinking with a stray pass to Paddy Wallace.
The start of the second-half saw some anxious moments for Ireland as Samoa probed close to their line. The constant drizzle had made the ball slippery and this undermined the tourists on two occasions, the second seeing openside Manaia Salavea spill forward when 10 metres from the line. But now it was Ireland who could not escape their 22 with their backpedalling scrum causing almighty problems. O'Driscoll eventually cleared the ball but Samoa were soon back on the offensive, ignoring one clear overlap before reducing the deficit to 13-10 with Lavea's first penalty.
Any time Ireland attempted to build some momentum, they were met by a brick wall that more often than not sent them hurtling backwards. However, winger David Lemi was lucky to escape punishment for an elbow on Stephen Ferris after Samoa had been shoved backwards at a scrum.
For all their possession, Samoa were struggling to trouble the scoreboard, and this time when Ireland escaped their 22 they struck. A quickly-taken free kick saw Stringer pass to O'Gara, who jinked his way over the line in the 66th minute before improving his own try.
The fight had all but drained out of Samoa, who sensed their moment had passed, but the visitors' pride prevented Ireland from scoring again.
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