On Tuesday, Ireland played in the semi-finals of the World Rugby U20 Championship, producing a convincing 47-27 win over Fiji in Stellenbosch. The commanding victory was marked with a more subdued atmosphere in light of a tragic event that had taken place 24 hours prior: the death of Greig Oliver, father of Irish scrumhalf Jack and long-serving Munster coach, who died suddenly in a paragliding accident.
The match was a tribute to Oliver, with Ireland’s players wearing black armbands to also acknowledge the deaths of two young Irish tourists on holiday in the Greek Islands – Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall. It was an emotional day for all involved; not least those close friends and family of Oliver who made the trip out to Stellenbsoch as part of a vocal and colourful crowd just days before.
As a result of their win, Ireland will now go on to play in the semi-finals of the tournament – a remarkable feat given the circumstances. Their performance showed incredible resilience in light of tragedy, displaying both the spirit of sportsmanship and respect for their past.
On a day of tragedy and heartbreak, Ireland showed determination and courage to see off Fiji at the World Cup in phenomenal circumstances. Before kick-off, a minute’s silence was held by both teams, with Fiji captain Moti Murray handing skipper Diarmud Mangan a jersey as a mark of respect for Greig and Jack Oliver, who were sadly absent due to unforeseen events.
Despite their diminished numbers, Ireland put in a valiant effort that yielded four first half tries from close range drives. No 8 Brian Gleeson was on hand to score the first and fourth, stemming from penalties, lineout dives, and multiple phases close to the line. Hooker Danny Sheahan and loosehead George Hadden filled the gap in between with tries of their own, each coming from a series of close-quarter pushes towards the Fiji goal. The Islanders defended admirably against overwhelming odds, yet couldn’t hold up against Ireland’s powerful pack.
Beset by 19 handling errors and 179 tackles, when the final whistle blew it marked a bittersweet victory that not only saw them book their place in the semi-finals but also honour the memory of two friends lost too soon.
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.