Irish finish on a high

Ireland gave the crumbling stands of Lansdowne Road a fitting send-off on Sunday afternoon, punctuating a glorious chapter of the stadium’s history with a handsome 61-17 victory over the Pacific Islanders.


The famous ground may be on its last legs but Irish rugby appeared to be in rude health. This win, forged by a side containing plenty of fresh faces, completes Ireland’s clean-sweep of November Tests that included thumping wins over South Africa and Australia.


The wreaking-balls will swing in the new year as order is imposed on this higglety-pigglety old pile, but today it was the Pacific Islanders who played the part of the bulldozers, imposing chaos on Ireland’s well-ordered lines.


But the locals eventually subdued the Islanders’ fires, running in eight tries; Paddy Wallace, in his first start for Ireland, pocketed a full 26 points.


The Ulsterman’s near-flawless kicking was matched by his composure in attack, touching down for a deserved try.


Denis Hickie, Malcolm O’Kelly, Simon Easterby (two), Shane Horgan, Rory Best and Paul O’Connell also crossed as Ireland overcame an impressive start from the tourists to run riot.


O’Connell was prominent as Ireland made early inroads into the Islanders’ defence, and there were just two minutes on the clock when the first try was scored.


Wallace created the score, the Ulster fly-half dummying to Hickie before actually feeding the veteran Leinster winger who finished well.


Wallace landed the conversion and then added a penalty as Ireland continued to find gaps – until they were opened up by a sweet kick from Tusi Pisi in the 10th minute.


The Samoan outside-half spotted Lome Fa’atau unmarked on the right wing and expertly dropped the ball into his arms only for the winger, who had a clear run to the line, to knock on.


More dynamic play resulted in the Islanders’ first try, Kameli Ratuvou chipping ahead and gathering before riding Wallace’s tackle and supplying the scoring pass to Rabeni.


The dazzling try served a timely warning of the threat posed by the Islanders – so it came as little surprise when Wallace took the points on offer from a penalty in front of the posts.


Pisi missed a long-range penalty, and O’Driscoll then sent Fitzgerald a hospital pass to give the debutant a bone-shaking welcome to Test rugby – courtesy of Elvis Seveali’i’s shuddering hit.


But the scoreboard was ticking over, with Wallace punishing the Islanders’ terrible discipline by adding his third penalty.


Wallace nearly crossed on two occasions after being put into space by two offloads from Shane Horgan, and Ireland were assisted by the sin-binning of prop Justin Va’a following a string of offences from the Islanders.


O’Driscoll brushed off two tackles to slice the tourists’ defence open. But Ulster prop Bryan Young tried to go it alone, and a likely try went begging.


The mistake was ruthlessly punished by the Islanders, who saw substitute prop Taufa’ao Felise burst into space and feed winger Lome Fa’atau to gallop home.


Ireland’s response was emphatic, but they were helped by wayward defending which allowed Wallace to skip home following a flat pass from Peter Stringer.


He converted his own try and then added the extras when a mix-up in the Islanders line-out let Malcolm O’Kelly in for Ireland’s second try of first-half injury time to leave the score poised at 30-12 in Ireland’s favour at the break.


It took just five minutes of the second half for Ireland to stretch their lead, with O’Driscoll charging through and offloading to Easterby who was driven over by his team-mates.


Wallace landed the conversion, and 10 minutes later Ireland ran in their fifth try – with Stringer kicking to the right where Horgan was able to gather.


The Leinster star, who has been in magnificent form during the autumn, easily beat Fa’atau and Rabeni in open space and

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