Celtic Cup: Ireland 7 (Peter Blakeney 4, Peter Caruth, Richard Sykes, Gareth Watkins) France 1 (Jean-David Koch)
Peter Blakeney’s four star performance helped Ireland roll over an under-strength France in some style in Cardiff with plenty to spare, moving them close to retaining the Celtic Cup.
They need just a point from Sunday’s tie with Wales to win it but even a loss could take it having built such a strong goal difference.
Ireland got off to a brilliant start, Peter Caruth finishing a simple slap at the back post, applied to Jason Lynch’s byeline cross.
Blakeney got his first before the second minute was up, scooping over the French goalkeeper and he volleyed a third in the 13th minute after Caruth turned a defender in the circle and his shot saw a rebound rise high in the striker’s direction. Sykes powered home a corner flick for 4-0 at half-time and the second period started in a similar fashion to the first.
Blakeney made it five from close range and got his personal fourth in the 38th minute with a high corner flick. Mick Maguire created the seventh with a powerful solo run, laying off for Gareth Watkins to slap home. France got a consolation goal in the 48th minute when Koch converted a penalty corner low left.
Speaking about the game, manager Peter Jackson said: “This was a pleasing performance where we increased our goal scoring conversion rate and momentum.”
Scotland, meanwhile, kept their hopes of the title alive with a 3-1 win over Wales. Kenny Bain and Adam McKenzie made it 2-0 while Dan Coultas grabbed a corner goal to complete the win late in the game after Andy Cornick had given Wales a chance.
On home turf, the Irish men not on Celtic Cup duty fell to a 3-2 defeat to Pakistan in a high quality, uncapped game at Belfield.
Haseem broke the deadlock when he touched in Rizwan’s excellent reverse but Shane O’Donoghue tied it at 1-1 on 34 minutes from Timmy Cockram’s inviting reverse-stick cross.
Rehan Butt restored the advantage with a smart turn but an equally neat cross from Mikey Watt saw Corckram finish with some elan.
Muhammad Imran, though, snaffled the winner with a pin-point drag-flick, taking over the duties from world record holder Sohail Abbas who was on the bench for both of their corners.
Celtic Cup results: Ireland 7 (Peter Blakeney 4, Peter Caruth, Richard Sykes, Gareth Watkins) France 1 (Jean-David Koch); Scotland 3 (Kenny Bain, Adam McKenzie, Dan Coultas) Wales 1 (Andy Cornick)
Standings: 1. Ireland 6pts (+7) 2. Scotland 3pts (+1) 3. Wales 3pts (-1) 4. France 0pts (-7)
** Picture from the Ireland vs Pakistan game courtesy of Rodrigo Jaramillo/Hockey Press Argentina, more to follow on Sunday morning