Ireland sail past Samoa
Heroic victory ensures knockout qualification
Last Updated: 05/11/08 12:10pm
Ireland celebrate after stunning Samoa
Ireland emphatically booked their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup with a stunning 34-16 victory over Samoa at the Parramatta Stadium.
An inspired 22-point haul from the local boy proved the difference as Ireland's World Cup adventure continues.
Three tries in seven first-half minutes set Andy Kelly's men up for the win before a comprehensive second half display ensured the required victory margin of six points never looked in doubt.
Pat Richards starred for the Emerald Isle as he claimed 22 points, including a hat-trick, with Liam Finn, Simon Finnagan and Sean Gleeson also crossing the whitewash.
The win now means the Irish will face a semi-final qualifier against Fiji on the Gold Coast, with the Kangaroos lying in wait for the winners in the second semi-final.
Ireland took to the Parramatta Stadium needing to win their final group match by six points and, after weathering an early storm, roared into a 14-0 lead before the Samoans struck back to cut the deficit by half-time.
For the second successive match, Ireland made a tentative start and, after conceding five penalties in the first 10 minutes, found themselves under intense pressure on their own line.
They had a series of let-offs, with Samoa captain Nigel Vagana narrowly failing to ground the ball after an awful handling error by Richards.
Video referee Steve Ganson then disallowed a try by prop Tony Puletua because of obstruction and his fellow front rower Wayne McDade dropped the ball with the line at his mercy.
But Ireland gradually settled and brushed aside a series of hard-hitting challenges by their physical opponents to storm into the lead.
Richards started the scoring, outjumping the diminutive Matt Utai to collect Finn's perfectly-judged high kick on 11 minutes.
Loose forward Finnigan then supported a clean break by Finn to score a second try and, although Richards missed both conversion attempts, the Irish grabbed a third try through Gleeson before their opponents could recover.
The kicking of both sides was high class and it was from a skier by scrum-half Ben Roberts that Samoa scored their first try on 23 minutes.
The spin proved too much for full-back Michael Platt and, after Richards missed a chance to make the ball dead, Vagana pounced for the touch.
Platt looked to have made amends six minutes before the break when he pulled off a try-saving tackle on Vagana but substitute Misi Taulapapa spotted a gap from dummy half and darted over for the try.
Roberts kicked both goals to make it 14-12 but Richards extended Ireland's lead in injury time with a penalty and went over for his second try two minutes into the second half after taking a cut-out pass from Karl Fitzpatrick.
The Wigan man missed the conversion but added a penalty to open up a 10-point lead. With Roberts orchestrating play with both foot and hands, the Samoans always looked dangerous and Ireland breathed easier when Vagana limped off on 55 minutes.
The Irish thought they had scored again when winger Damien Blanch - hat-trick hero in last week's 22-20 defeat by Tonga, went 80 metres after gathering a loose ball only to be brought back for a knock-on.
As tension grew, Samoa lost their discipline and Richards made them pay with two more penalties before Finn clinched the memorable win after seizing on a defensive error on 70 minutes.
Bradford forward David Solomona, who was put on report for a high tackle on Gleeson, pulled a try back in the closing stages but Richards had the final say when he dived on a loose ball to complete his hat-trick.