venue: Skilled Park, Gold Coast
10th November 2008
Full Match Report
RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP SEMI-FINAL QUALIFIER
Ireland's unlikely World Cup adventure came to an end against a tough and skilful Fiji team who now have the dubious reward of facing Australia in the semi-finals next weekend. Andy Kelly's Wolfhounds again played with spirit and enterprise but they were not quite as clinical as in last Wednesday's shock win against Samoa, and were eventually worn down by the Fijians' combination of brilliant attacking skills combined with some brutal defence.
Both their half-backs Scott Grix and Liam Finn ended bloodied after being on the receiving end of tackles that the referee Ashley Klein allowed to go unpunished, suggesting that the Australians may be in for an uncomfortable night against the Fijians in Sydney next Sunday even if their progress into the final is the next best thing to inevitable.
Fijian rugby league had already received its greatest ever boost from the team's progress in the competition, with such a rush on satellite dishes to watch this game that there were none left available on the islands. Now they will receive another Aus$300,000 as the reward for reaching the final four of the World Cup, while Ireland's players will console themselves with Aus$75,000 and a host of happy memories for their economy class flight home.
Ireland had made a nightmare start when Simon Finnigan's attempt to charge down a Fiji clearing kick backfired horribly, with the former St George centre Wes Naiqama feeding classily off the scraps to weave over from 40 metres out. But the spirit that had served them so well in their first two games of the tournament against Tonga and Samoa was soon in evidence as they replied with a splendid score of their own, the Wakefield wing Damien Blanch set free by his centre Sean Gleeson and beating Fiji's highly-rated full-back Jarryd Hayne with a classic in-and-away.
The Bati continued to look the more threatening side, but Ireland defended resolutely and occasionally spectacularly, with the full-back Michael Platt pulling off a pair of remarkable try-saving tackles. He should have been rewarded when Ireland earned a couple of penalties inside Fiji's half. But after spurning one simple opportunity to take the lead by taking a quick tap that brought no reward, they then opted to go for goal from much further out, and Pat Richards sliced wide.
Instead it was Fiji who regained the lead when Akuila Uate, the Newcastle wing who scored a hat-trick in their opening game against France, caught Ireland napping from acting half, with Naiqama adding his second conversion. They should still have been level at half-time, as Grix stepped sharply off his right foot to burrow over from close range for a second Ireland try in the 36th minute. But Richards' simple conversion attempt bounced wide off the post, and in an increasingly rugged second half the Fijians stretched further ahead when the loose forward Jayson Bukoya found a gap in the tiring Wolfhounds defence.
Hayne and Uate added further tries, although Ireland kept battling to the last and Blanch's second try was the least they deserved, even if it came from a questionable pass.
Hayne; Tadulala, Naiqama (capt), Millard, Uate; Noilea, Groom; Sadrau, Suka, Vono, Sims, Koroi, Bukuya. Interchange: Storer, Bradley-Qalilawa, Tora, Naqau.
Platt; Blanch, Gleeson, Littler, Richards; Grix, Finn; O'Carroll, Beswick, Haggerty, Harrison, Doran, Finnigan. Interchange: McIlorum, Fitzpatrick, Corcoran, Tandy.