Ireland were given a mighty scare by Samoa in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up fixture as they held on to defeat the islanders 17-13 in Bayonne.
Trailing 10-7 at the interval before a further Lima Sopoaga penalty extended the margin to six points on 46 minutes, Ireland managed to avoid a shock defeat.
Crossings from Conor Murray and Rob Herring in the second period to go with Jimmy O’Brien’s first-half score ultimately proved enough to seal the victory.
Duncan Paia’aua had grabbed his side’s only try of the game on 36 minutes as Samoa sent a message to their pool rivals that they are a threat this World Cup.
The win at a sold-out Stade Jean Dauger could come at significant cost for Ireland after Cian Healy, who departed just 21 minutes into his 126th Test outing, added to Ireland’s front-row concerns.
Andy Farrell‘s planning has already been complicated by ongoing injury issues for Healy’s fellow loosehead Dave Kilcoyne and hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, although he expects the trio to be available in the coming weeks.
The head coach, whose side begin the World Cup on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux, was also forced into a change ahead of kick-off as a “niggle” for wing Keith Earls afforded a chance to Jacob Stockdale.
Heavy rain and forecasts of thunderstorms in south-west France did not deter a capacity crowd from turning out, with the slippery conditions contributing to a series of fumbles.
A fine Murray tackle denied Samoa an early lead before Jack Crowley’s pinpoint cross-field kick allowed Mack Hansen to gallop down the right wing and give full-back O’Brien a simple finish for his maiden Test try.
Ireland have unsettling memories of this stadium, having endured a bruising affair – dubbed the Battle of Bayonne – against the host club ahead of the 2007 World Cup.
Physicality was at the forefront of this encounter and Farrell’s men suffered a setback when the hobbling Healy was assisted off the pitch by medical staff and replaced by Jeremy Loughman.
Unfamiliar in white shirts and blue shirts, Ireland’s mix-and-match line-up were struggling to find their rhythm.
They ended the half 10-7 behind after Paia’aua intercepted a Stuart McCloskey pass inside his own half to brilliantly race clear and dive over, before Sopoaga added the conversion and a subsequent penalty.
Samoa, who will be England’s final pool-stage opponents in early October, were facing a tier one nation for only the second time since losing 47-5 to Ireland at the 2019 World Cup.
A second penalty from former Wasps fly-half Sopoaga stretched their lead early in the second period before Stockdale’s kick over the top was gleefully dotted down by the diving Murray, albeit Crowley’s wayward conversion left Ireland a point behind.
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The world’s top-ranked side finally regained the lead 17 minutes from time when replacement hooker Herring bulldozed over from a line-out maul.
Crowley’s conversion attempt was charged down before James Ryan was held up on the line to keep the contest firmly in the balance.
Roared on by the mostly-French crowd, Samoa refused to roll over and continued to cause problems.
Yet, on a day when Fiji stunned England at Twickenham, they ultimately fell short of producing a further major shock as Ireland survived a significant wake-up call which could yet prove expensive due to Healy’s premature exit.