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Ireland debutants ‘held their hands up’ as Robert Baloucoune starred in win over USA

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Ireland's Robert Baloucoune celebrates his debut try. Pic: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

Ireland's Robert Baloucoune celebrates his debut try. Pic: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

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Ireland's Robert Baloucoune scores a try.

Ireland's Robert Baloucoune scores a try.

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Ireland's Ronan Kelleher scores a try.

Ireland's Ronan Kelleher scores a try.

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Ireland's Ronan Kelleher runs in a try.

Ireland's Ronan Kelleher runs in a try.

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Ireland's Nick Timoney scores a try.

Ireland's Nick Timoney scores a try.

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

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Ireland's Robert Baloucoune celebrates his debut try. Pic: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

The final game of this seemingly never-ending season and no better way to bring things to a close than with a new-looking Ireland side running in 10 tries over an admittedly very ordinary USA outfit.

Whether many of the eight new caps playing in green at the Aviva will go on to greater things is, of course, unknown but one player who introduced himself to the Test arena in style was Ulsterman Robert Baloucoune.

His was the first try of the game and remained the pick of the bunch as the 23-year-old Enniskillen winger scored a spectacular try on his debut that will live long in the memory.

Baloucoune scorched his way through a gap created by Joey Carbery’s wrap-around and swerved his way through a despairing US defence without a hand being laid on him.

He also provided an assist for Stuart McCloskey’s second-half touchdown.

Perhaps not surprisingly, hooker Ronan Kelleher made off with the player of the match award after dotting down four times in a contest which also saw Eagles flanker Riekart Hattingh red-carded for a high hit on the Ireland hooker early in the second half.

Apart from Baloucoune, who always looked dangerous when on the ball, the contribution from Ulster’s contingent was significant.

Nick Timoney, who was one of four Kingspan-based players making their Test bows, also claimed a try while his provincial team-mates McCloskey and Will Addison also made it onto the scoresheet with the former getting another touchdown after also crossing against Japan while the latter kicked the game’s final conversion in his first cap since August 2019.

James Hume also impressed in his first Ireland game, as did fellow debutant Tom O’Toole.

It was certainly a soft enough landing for all the new faces though the point of the exercise for Farrell was to test his strength in depth and, more importantly, just get them game time.

Harry Byrne seemed to revel in the space afforded him when sprung from the bench for Carbery and there were plenty of gaps to be found.

Andrew Conway had an attention-grabbing first half before an HIA removed him and his Munster team-mate Gavin Coombes was also prominent and drove over late on for Ireland’s ninth try.

Hugo Keenan also impressed, as did Dave Kilcoyne and Caelan Doris, though the Leinster back-rower had the ball knocked from his grasp when over the US line.

There were hints of some dissatisfaction from skipper James Ryan afterwards, though the lock had to admit that, overall, the side had performed pretty well.

“We had eight new caps and I thought they all gave a really good account of ourselves,” said Ryan. “We probably struggled a bit in the first half at times with the pace of the game but we had new guys coming in and that’s international rugby for you.

“But with the second half I was really proud of the effort and we’re delighted to finish off with a result like that. We wanted to take a step forwards and I thought we finished really well in the second half.”

And alluding to the supporters who turned out, Ryan added, “There were 6,000 but it felt like 60,000.”

Kelleher said: “Every single one of the eight new caps held their hands up to be in future camps.

As for taking the Ireland starting shirt from Ulster’s Rob Herring, Kelleher stated: “I had a job to do with these two games and stake my claim for the No.2 jersey.”

Ireland: H Keenan; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, A Conway; J Carbery, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, R Kelleher, T O’Toole; R Baird, J Ryan (capt); C Doris, N Timoney, G Coombes. Subs: D Heffernan for Kelleher 54mins, E Byrne for Kilcoyne 54mins, F Bealham for O’Toole 72mins, F Wycherley for Baird 57mins, P Boyle for Timoney 54mins, C Blade for Casey 59mins, H Byrne for Carbery 53mins, W Addison for Carbery half-time.

Referee: M Raynal (France)


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