RONAN Kelleher crossed for four of Ireland’s ten tries as Andy Farrell’s side rounded off their Summer Series with a convincing 71-10 victory over USA at the Aviva Stadium.
The Leinster hooker dotted down twice in each half to join Brian Robinson, Denis Hickie and Keith Wood – also against USA – in a select group of Irish players to have scored four tries in a single match.
Debutants Robert Baloucoune and Nick Timoney were also among the try-scorers while Gavin Coombes opened his international account on a satisfying night for the Irish against a team who played the final 27 minutes with 14 men following Riekert Hattingh’s red card.
IRELAND SURVIVE EARLY PRESSURE
The visitors came into the game with confidence having crossed four times in a spirited defeat against England last weekend and dominated the early territory in Dublin.
Gary Gold’s men turned down a chance to put points on the board by kicking an early penalty to the corner, which was stolen by Caelan Doris, and when Ireland were afforded a similar opportunity Carbery had no hesitation in pointing to the posts and opening the scoring.
Doris was similarly influential on 13 minutes, winning a turnover two metres out, and the Americans’ inability to make their pressure count was ruthlessly punished.
Baloucoune was first to cross and did so in style, picking up possession on the halfway line and showing an electric turn of pace to jink away from would-be tacklers and cross for a dream debut score.
USA responded with a Luke Carty penalty after Ireland were penalised in front of their own posts but it was largely one-way traffic thereafter.
KELLEHER TAKES CONTROL
Kelleher began a prolific night on 24 minutes from what would become a familiar source of joy for Ireland, joining the back of a maul from his own lineout and forcing his way over.
The hosts stretched their lead in almost identical fashion three minutes later as Timoney joined Baloucoune in marking his first cap with a try and Farrell’s side then turned on the style to score their third.
Andrew Conway collected his own deft grubber kick down the left touchline and fed inside to Keenan, who drew the last defender and set up Kelleher for a simple finish.
Ireland led 31-3 at the break and it took just three minutes of the second half for Kelleher to complete his hat-trick, the Leinster man breaking off a maul and powering over.
IRELAND RUN RIOT AFTER RED CARD
The visitors’ night went from bad to worse on 53 minutes when they were reduced to 14 men, flanker Hattingh seeing red after a high hit on Kelleher.
But the influential front-rower showed no ill effects from the collision and barrelled over for his fourth try within a minute of Hattingh’s removal.
With USA down to 14 men, the floodgates opened and Stuart McCloskey was next to add his name to the scoresheet after a neat offload by his Ulster teammate Baloucoune.
McCloskey then turned provider, sending a neat chip over the American backline to which Keenan won the race for Ireland’s eighth try.
Coombes, a regular on the scoresheet for Munster, pounced from two metres out to score his first senior Ireland try with nine minutes to play but a spirited USA kept battling and Michael Baska dived over from close range to reward a late spell of pressure.
Fittingly, it was Ireland who had the final word as replacement Finlay Bealham crossed in the left-hand corner to take the hosts into double figures.
WHAT THEY SAID
Ronan Kelleher said: “The most important thing is the team. We had eight new caps today and every single one of them put their hand up to be in future camps, I thought they were all outstanding.
“I really enjoyed my week out in Jersey [in a British & Irish Lions camp] but came back in here with a job to do in these two games and I was really looking forward to staking my claim for the No.2 jersey.
“It has been a long season, we’ll enjoy a bit of a rest and come back in August ready to go again.
“To have the fans back in [during this series] was incredible and it’s great to see them again. It was very enjoyable out there.”
James Ryan said: “We struggled a bit in the first half at times with the pace of the game but that’s international rugby for you – and the second half was good.
“During the week we wanted to take a step forward and we finished really well. We really enjoyed having 6,000 here, it felt like 60,000 to us and the support was incredible.
“The debutants all got stuck in and gave a really good account of themselves. We’ll enjoy tonight and look forward to next season.”