Akuila Uata scores hat-trick for Pacific Islanders as Ireland now need miracle to reach knockout stages.
Ireland 14 Fiji 32: Fiji effectively ended Ireland’s World Cup dream for the second time after out-muscling them in a bruising Group A match at a packed Spotland.
Winger Akuila Uate, whose last trip to England was with Australia for the 2011 Four Nations Series, scored two tries in Fiji’s 30-14 win over the Irish in the semi-final qualifier on the Gold Coast in 2008 and went one better on Monday night with a hat-trick.
But the foundations for the Bati’s 32-14 victory was laid by a dominant pack which thrilled the bulk of the sell-out crowd of 8,872 in Rochdale, which boasts the biggest Fijiian expatriate community outside London.
The Fijians’ display sent out a message to both England and Australia, whose coaches Steve McNamara and Tim Sheens were in the crowd, that they will be no pushovers in the remaining group games.
Ireland, the 500-1 tournament outsiders, were in touch at half-time when they trailed 12-4 but they conceded four second-half tries to suffer an emphatic defeat and will now need to beat England in Huddersfield on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
The deeply-religious Fijians went into a huddle before kick-off to sing a hymn but there was nothing angelic about their play as they tore into the Irish from the kick-off.
The physical onslaught was led by the Sims brothers, who made up half the starting pack and laid the platform for the quicksilver backs to show their pace and class with two tries in a four-minute spell.
Uate produced a strong finish to open the scoring on nine minutes and Ireland had barely recovered when full-back Kevin Naiqama beat two flat-footed defenders to cross for a second.
Centre Wes Naiqama converted his brother’s try and the Fijians would have been further ahead had veteran skipper Petero Civoniceva managed to get the ball down but he was held on his back over the line.
The Pacific Islanders threatened to run away with the game at that stage but the introduction of Manly Sea Eagles forward James Hassan for his debut injected some much-needed resolve into the Irish ranks.
Indiscipline then crept into the Fijians’ play and Ireland took advantage to pull back a try through second rower Tyrone McCarthy on 23 minutes.
That gave Aston’s men the encouragement they needed and they could have drawn level had second rower Dave Allen managed to take Scott Grix’s pass in a try-scoring position.
The chance was lost and Ireland were unable to take advantage of the sin-binning of replacement Eloni Vunakece for persistent infringements six minutes before the interval.
Naiqama stretched Fiji’s lead to 12-4 on the stroke of half-time with a penalty and there was no way back for Ireland when second rower Tariq Sims went over for a third try after Grix had failed to take Aaron Groom’s high kick.
The floodgates opened as Uate completed his hat-trick and loose forward Korbin Sims also touched down and Naiqama took his goal tally to four from seven attempts.
Ireland lost Grix with a leg injury that could see him miss out on the clash with England on his home ground, but they produced a late flurry that gave the scoreline some respect.
Winger Damien Blanch went over at the corner four minutes from the end and, in the final move of the match, Hassan forced his way over for a richly-deserved try to which Pat Richards added the goal.