Ireland has advanced to the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship following a 47-27 victory over Fiji in Stellenbosch. The match was dominated by Ireland, although their success lacked the same focus and precision that characterized their win against Australia on match day two.
The news of Greig Oliver’s passing sent shockwaves through the entire Irish team. Oliver, a long-serving Munster coach and father of Irish under-20 scrumhalf Jack, had been part of a vibrant group of travelling family and fans cheering on the team during their first two games in Paarl Gimnasium.
At Danie Craven Stadium, the atmosphere was somber in light of the tragedy only 24 hours earlier. Ireland wore black armbands to recognize not only Oliver, but also two teenage boys who passed away while vacationing in the Greek Islands – Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall.
Despite the sadness, there is still much to be celebrated. Ireland’s advancing in the tournament cannot be overlooked; they have overcome a great tragedy to show resilience in one of the world’s most competitive arenas.
As the Irish team took to the field for their match against Fiji, the build-up was one filled with trauma. They had showed tremendous courage and resolve just to make it out there at all. In a moving gesture, Fiji captain Moti Murray presented skipper Diarmud Mangan with a jersey in tribute to Greig and Jack Oliver before kick-off, marking a poignant start to the game.
Although Ireland put on a flawed display – marked by 19 handling errors and 179 tackles – they ultimately got the job done; booking their place in the semi-finals regardless of the outcome of the England versus Australia game later that day.
It didn’t take long for them to get on the scoreboard either. Four tries – all from close range drives – were scored in the first half alone. No 8 Brian Gleeson touched down the first and fourth attempts, both stemming from penalty kicks, lineout drives and multiple phases near to the Fijian line. In between hooker Danny Sheahan and loosehead George Hadden found themselves crossing over, this time as a result of repeated attacks towards their opposition’s goal. Despite an admirable commitment from the Islanders, Ireland’s powerful pack simply could not be stopped.
Ireland’s successful first-half performance was almost undone by Fiji as the unfancied islanders roared back into contention in the second period with two sensational long-range tries. All Black Richie Mo’unga’s cousin Isaiah Ravula opened the scoring for Fiji, surging through a gap in the Irish defence before showcasing his electric pace to cross the line.
Fiji’s next strike began with an audacious grubber kick from Ravula deep inside his own half and ended with replacement Pateresio Finau touching down in the corner. This remarkable score brought the scoreline within four points – a reminder to Ireland of the danger of complacency.
Just when it looked like Fiji were about to mount a stunning come-back, Ireland returned to their traditional tactics of mauls and scrums to stabilise the game. Skipper Gus McCarthy scored twice after driving lineouts while wing Andrew Osborne showed off some Fijian flourish of his own with a spectacular breakaway try. With a few well placed additions from the bench, Ireland saw out the game to take the victory.