Gill (11), Armstrong (22), McMahon (30, 62), James (37), Phillips (39), Kelly (69, 75), Dunne (77), Boyce (79)
Muscat (34), Dimech (72)
J Kelly 9/10
Ireland began their build up to their world cup qualifying games today with a comprehensive win over a Malta Knights side they played previously twelve months ago, albeit in the sunnier climes of their opponents and the Ireland side selected was similar to the one that defeated their opponents that time around. Malta had boosted their team with several of their players from the professional ranks so this game was going to be a sterner test than their previous meeting.
The game began with Ireland playing towards the beach end of the pitch. An early knock on, on the second tackle of the match saw the ball quickly in Irish hands close to the Malta goal line and an early opportunity for two points via a penalty for a high tackle was turned down in the hunt to gain an early ascendency but the ball was soon lost and Malta then got a piggy back up the pitch with over-eager defenders returning the favour of a penalty.
With the Maltese pressing the Irish showed some indiscipline and gave away two penalties for dissent in the early stages. Malta also desired to get that first try and chose to run the ball but just as the Maltese had done close to their line the Irish showed solid defence and forced an error.
Both sides then settled down into respecting the ball and attempting to win the battle up forward. The Maltese looked quite dynamic with the ball in hand, particularly Malcolm Attard who drove the ball in hard, testing the defensive line. The Irish were being slightly naïve and were making unforced errors. Thankfully their defence was top notch and the ball was soon back in their hands following a big hit which forced the ball to be lost by Malta.
Big hit ups by Chris Hall and Gareth Gill gave the Irish good position and following on from some off the cuff rugby Gill handed off a defender and burst through to score from 15 metres out in the 11th Minute. James Kelly added the conversion and the Irish lead by 6-0. The return set was of high quality and the Irish went close to adding to the score but sound defence held them short. The Maltese responded with a big set and worked their way down the pitch and finished with a bomb that was well taken by Casey Dunne.
The game pattern then started to build and the Maltese found themselves struggling to get out of their half with the ball before interference by Matty Cahoon relieved the pressure and gave them a penalty and good field position, though lack of control of the ball again saw it spill free and return the ball to the Irish.
A high shot by Chris Parker gave Ireland a penalty on the half way line but continued dissent by Dunne saw a penalty for Ireland turned into a scrum for Malta. Soft hands from Jonathan Margrin very nearly put Kyal Green through a hole but the Irish stood firm and forced another error.
Ireland then pressed close and following some good work up the left by Sam Boyd and Matt McKelvey a cross field kick by James Kelly was brilliantly taken by Rob Armstrong who grounded the ball just before going out of bounds. From the restart a knock on gave Malta good field position due but a loose pass saw the ball go to ground and Jorhan Hylton dived upon it to give the Irish possession. Ireland pressed hard but the Maltese defence stood firm.
A superb hit up by Magrin saw the Irish desperately trying to slow him down, illegally, and a penalty was awarded. Sam Keep took the ball in but was absolutely belted and lost possession. The Irish defence in their own 20 metres was exemplary and Malta couldn’t find a way through it.
The Maltese then, when back in possession, took the ball hard to the Irish line and a superb cross-field kick was adeptly taken by Rob Armstrong to quell the attack. The Irish returned the ball and some dazzling footwork by James Kelly and a superb offload put the ball in Alan McMahon’s hands. He still had a lot of work to do, being at the half way line but a couple of in and out jinks and he was in clear air running and scoring under the sticks. Kelly added the conversion and the Irish lead by 14 points.
Malta needed something, the scoring had been one way and they had nothing to show for their efforts. Danny Burke (great Irish name for a Maltese lad) ran hard at the line and the Maltese started to force the pass to make the breakthrough; and it worked. On 34 minutes’ fullback Andy Muscat proved too hard to get hold of and with the attention of four defenders he squeezed through the most improbable of gaps to give the Knights their first points.
A good follow up set by the Maltese then ended with the ball being kicked dead in goal and the Irish moved up the pitch with a solid set and Kelly put up a bomb (whilst receiving some fierce attention from Magrin). Muscat failed to take the bomb and knocked on and Parker, sensing another score, dived on the ball from an offiside position and gave away the penalty. From the resulting set Paddy James went over from close range and Kelly added the two.
More good work, including an impressive hit up from Connor Mackey, put the ball deep in Maltese territory and another knock on gave the Irish the ball and spritely hooker Connor Phillips darted through a defence caught napping to score close by the posts and gave Kelly the easiest of conversions. Malta then gained possession and tried hard to score before the end of the half and Jean-Pierre Zarb looked in at the corner only for Dunne to carelessly catch him with his knee, for which he was sin binned, just before the hooter.
Ireland had dominated the first half on the score board and had taken their chances very well.The Maltese would need to regroup in the second half and they knew they would have a numerical advantage for the opening stages when the teams returned to the pitch.
The second half began with good hands from Ireland giving them an overlap but a miscommunication between Paddy James and Adam Boyce saw the ball being passed into touch. The Knights immediately ran the ball in with gusto and won a penalty for holding down, which they chose to run the ball but a poor pass from Attard put the ball into opposition hands. Adam Doherty then erred by kicking out on the full and gave field position to the visitors. A great run by Kaine Dimech was then ended by a huge hit from Mackey, which knocked the wind out of Dimech as well as forcing him to twist in the tackle and hurt his knee. With only a few minutes played in the second half both teams were feeling the physicality of the game.
The game restarted and only a couple of plays later a poor pass gave Magrin little to work with and he knocked on trying to grab at the ball. Magrin sought to make up the knock on and was quickly out of the scrum to hammer Matt Mckelvey with a shuddering hit. The Maltese prop was leading by example both in attack and defence. The Irish completed the set and then kicked long and were able to trap Julian Caruana in his own in-goal area. The winger had no room to get out and the Irish forced the drop out. Ireland returned the ball forwards and they were met with great defence.
The game was becoming broken up by the number of injuries and both teams were having to adapt to this. The Irish thought they had gone in but touch judge Fiona McConn spotted a forward pass and informed referee James Spencer who ordered a scrum be formed.
The Maltese then ran hard, as they had done all day, but were met with a wall of green, as they had done all day. The kick to finish their set only just crossed the half way line and the Irish were clearly winning the territorial battle but poor hands once again let them down and a forced pass saw the ball lost forward.
With neither side making inroads and both sides making too many errors the game was losing its intensity. What was needed was a score to get it back on track. Quick hands from Malta moved the ball from left to right but also far too close to the touchline and the ball was turned over once more. Could the Irish now take control and move the ball up the pitch? The dynamic Paddy James was starting to add weight as an additional forward but this made little difference as the ball was once more turned over; completion rates were very low.
Malta went close and were trying to force the pass and a cut out ball from Muscat was very nearly intercepted by Armstrong, but he couldn’t control the ball and it went into touch and with it gave Malta a scrum ten metres from the Irish line.
The Maltese needed a score, if only to get the ball rolling. They worked the ball both ways but could find no way through. Attard tried to carry the entire Irish team over with him on the fifth but could only lose control as he attempted to offload. Both sides now tried hard to keep hold of the ball and see out their sets of six and the Irish proved more adapt at this. They completed their next set before forcing an error and getting good attacking position but the ball again became a hot potato and all the hard work to force the error was undone by another knock on.
The Maltese tried soft hands but then a huge hit by McMahon on Gary Hill saw the ball lost and it was pleasing to see McMahon follow up and support a great break out wide and to be in place as the ball was worked back inwards to allow him score under the sticks. Ireland were in control and this was shown when James Kelly, with no one to pass to, danced forwards, backwards, left and right before showing and going through a bemused defence to score a great solo try.
Malta pressed hard and finally got their reward with a superb draw and pass from Attard which put Dimech through the hole. Malta looked rejuvenated by this and suddenly started to drive in hard and force penalties. Jake Lynch drove close to the line and superb passing gave Caruana a chance but the cover defence just got to him to deny a further score.
Ireland responded with some excellent hit ups and forced a penalty for holding down on Armstrong. With the advanced field position they attacked around the ruck and Kelly got on the outside of his defender to ghost in out wide on the left and it was fitting for the lad from nearby town of Shankill to convert his try from out wide.
Great hands against a tiring Maltese saw a further score with Kelly and Boyce opening the door out wide on the left and an inside pass to the supporting Dunne who then scored under the sticks, with the Kelly converting again. The Irish weren’t finished and a mazy run from Adam Doherty gave Boyce room out wide on the left to score a try as the hooter sounded. Kelly then added the two from out wide to finish the game.
The score of 56-10 was deserved for the Irish, they had taken their chances and had been outstanding in defence. Malta should not be disappointed; they worked hard, ran the ball in very well and showed good shape but they came up against a very good Irish team who will go confidently into next week’s fixture against the Reggae Warriors of Jamaica buoyed by this performance.
Casey Dunne, Rob Armstrong, Paddy James, Alan McMahon, Jordan Hylton, Adam Doherty, James Kelly, Gareth Gill, Connor Phillips, Chris Hall, Matt McKelvey, Matt Cahoon, Wayne Kerr, Adam Boyce, Mickey Russell, Conor Mackey, Sam Boyd
Andy Muscat, Jen Pierre Zarb, Kaine Dimech, Paul Parkinson, Julian Caruana, Malcolm Attard, Danny Burke, Jonathan Magrin, Justin Barlogio, Jake Lynch, Joe Briggs, Sam Keep, Kyal Greene, Robin Cutajar, Gary Hill, Karl Cassar, Chris Parker