Ireland in Narrow Defeat to Tonga

All three Wigan Warriors representatives in the Ireland side played on Monday evening as Ireland lost out 22-20 against Tonga in a World Cup thriller in Parramatta.

Richards and O'Carroll started for the Irish while McIlorum stepped up off the bench.

Ireland produced a courageous display in going down to an agonising 22-20 defeat by Tonga in an epic World Cup Group C clash in Parramatta, despite Damien Blanch running in a hat-trick of tries..

A rugby league classic it wasn’t but for sheer excitement and drama it was the best game in the competition so far as the lead see-sawed one way and then the other right to the end with errors and indiscipline providing a recipe for magnificent entertainment!.

The lead changed hands six times before the appropriately named Esikeli Tonga pounced for the match-deciding try seven minutes from the end of a thrill-a-minute encounter which was lapped up by the colourful 6,165 crowd.

The outcome was tough on the Irish, who stood up to a ferocious onslaught by the bigger Tongan forwards and showed they can play football by matching their star-studded opponents try for try.

For a long time it looked as though Tonga would pay the price for their indiscipline, with Ireland scoring 14 of their points while the islanders were down to 12 men.

Referee Steve Ganson awarded 10 first-half penalties to Ireland and, after losing his patience, sent winger Tonga to the sin bin on 23 minutes for laying on in the tackle.

Ireland scored two tries while Tonga was on the sidelines and they added another after stand-off Feleti Mateo was also shown a yellow card on 48 minutes for dissent.

The islanders must have thought it was not going to be their day. They were earlier denied the services of NRL stars Fuifui Moimoi and Taniela Tuiaki by a court ruling and were forced into a late change when Castleford captain Awen Guttenbeil withdrew with a knee injury.

But they lead 6-0 thanks to a 10th-minute try from 20-year-old Penrith centre Michael Jennings and could have been further ahead after dominating the opening quarter.

Centre Etuate Uaisele dropped the ball with the line at his mercy and they had another effort disallowed by video referee Paul Simpkins.

But Ireland recovered from a sluggish start and took advantage of the temporary absence of winger Tonga to work an overlap on 25 minutes, captain Scott Grix sending Blanch over at the corner.

That gave Andy Kelly's men just the encouragement they needed and they produced their best rugby of the match to carve out a splendid try for full-back Michael Platt, who finished off a break by scrum-half Karl Fitzpatrick.

Richards, returning to his home-town club Parramatta, added the conversion to put Ireland 10-6 ahead and they should have extended the lead when Richards helped create another overlap but centre Sean Gleeson's pass to an unmarked Blanch went into touch.

Platt then turned from hero to villain when he hesitated at clearing a speculative kick from scrum-half Joel Taufa'ao and winger Cooper Vuna pounced for a soft try that levelled the scores. Taufa'ao missed the conversion but kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time to edge his side back in front.

Richards then went agonisingly close to touching down Fitzpatrick's high kick early in the second half before Tonga once more gave their opponents a helping hand with Mateo's sin-binning.

A superb pass out of the tackle by Gleeson got Blanch over for his second try but Tonga looked to have secured the victory when they kept the ball alive superbly on the last tackle and Uaisele scored the try of the match.

With Taufa'ao off the pitch, substitute Tony Williams added the conversion to make it 18-14 but the drama continued when Jennings had a try disallowed and Blanch gathered Brendan Finn's kick to complete his hat-trick.

Tonga (12) 22

Tries: Jennings, Vuna, Uaisele, Tonga Goals: Taufa'ao 2, Williams.

Ireland (10) 20

Tries: Blanch 3, Platt Goals: Richards 2.

Tonga: Talanoa, Vuna, Jennings, Uaisele, Tonga, Mateo, Taufa'ao, Kaufusi, Leo-Latau, Manuokafoa, L. Paea, Fa'aoso, Manu. Replacements: Moa, Lauaki, Uasi, Williams.

Ireland: Platt, Blanch, Gleeson, Littler, Richards, Grix, Fitzpatrick, O'Carroll, Beswick, Tandy, Harrison, Doran, Finnigan. Replacements: McIlorum, Finn, Haggerty, Cassidy.

Referee: S Ganson (England)

Speaking afterwards, Wigan Warriors utility back Pat Richards said,

"There is a lot of spirit in this team and we put up a good show. It is great to be part of, I suppose.

"We just wanted a bit of respect and I think we earned that tonight from the opposition, and hopefully Samoa as well. Everyone has been talking about those two."

"We showed a lot of pride and that is all we can ask. We need to be a bit smarter at times and hopefully we can come up with the win."

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