A late try from Watson Boas gave Papua New Guinea a hard-fought 14-6 win over a spirited Ireland side at Oil Search National Football Stadium in Port Moresby.
Ireland made the perfect start when Michael McIlorum scored inside the first five minutes, before tries from Garry Lo and Nene Macdonald, both unconverted, gave the Kumels an 8-6 lead at half-time.
The home crowd would have to sit through an intense second half which could have gone either way, before Boas settled the tie to send the crowd in Port Moresby into raptures.
Ireland made a lightning start to the contest, making big metres and putting in some tough defence to match the PNG forwards, and were rewarded for their efforts with the opening try of the game in the 5th minute through Michael McIlorum. A keep kick into the Kumels’ in-goal area from winger Shannon McDonnell fooled the PNG defence, and McIlorum was on-hand to react to the bouncing ball first to touch down. Liam Finn added the conversion to put the Irish 6-0 in front.
Back-to-back penalties gave PNG some much needed time in the Irish half, and they their perseverance paid off in the 16th minute when Garry Lo scored a fantastic try. The Kumels were able to create some space out wide for the winger Lo, who, after the Irish cover defence seemed to have the attacking raid under control, stepped back on the inside and had too much strength and speed to be stopped and sent the home crowd into hysterics. Rhyse Martin failed to land the conversion attempt.
PNG finally hit the front in the 26th minute when a nice set play down the right-hand side gave centre Nene Macdonald room to work with. The St George Illawarra Dragon showed good footwork close to the line to touch down and give the Kumels the lead. Martin again was unsuccessful with the conversion, leaving PNG 8-6 up.
Ireland, playing with the wind to their backs, were able to halt any more momentum from the home team before the break and were the much-relieved side heading into the half-time sheds trailing by only two points.
The second half was just as physical, with both teams showing desperate defence to deny the other. After soaking up most of PNG’s attack for long periods in the second half, Ireland almost made the breakthrough in the 69th minute.
On a rare attacking set, Irish halfback Finn kicked in behind the PNG defence towards an on-rushing Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook who, in the act of scoring, lost the ball with the try line begging.
The home side thought they had scored in the 71st minute when Justin Olam touched down in the corner, only for referee Matt Cecchin to rule a forward pass in the build-up.
With both teams making errors throughout the contest, it only seemed right for the winning score to come from one. In the 78th minute, a loose pass from Ireland in their own half was kicked forward from PNG halfback Watson Boas, before the number 7 picked up the ball and scored to the joy of the crowd in Port Moresby.
Ase Boas converted the extras to confirm the victory for the Kumels. PNG are now in the driving seat for a spot in the quarter final, whilst Ireland will hope results go their way in the next round.