Ireland 82; Romania 8
Yes, it was only Romania and yes they may be the weakest team in the group but you can only beat what is in front of you and Andy Farrell’s boys did that in style in Stade de Bordeaux on Saturday.
Unlike Irish teams before who huffed and puffed when they hit World Cup platforms, this group is so single-minded that by game’s end, you felt sorry for the outclassed Romanians.
Ireland clearly didn’t feel any emotions for their beaten opponents and instead of taking their foot off the pedal when well ahead, they kept up their relentless pursuit of touchdowns, and it is indeed a sign of their ruthlessness that when the game hit 80 minutes they pushed back the attacking Romanians and opted to keep the clock alive while they ran in their 12th try.
All this came after the shock of going behind to a try after two minutes when a well-intentioned grubber kick from skipper Johnny Sexton to winger Keith Earls was intercepted, allowing scrum-half Gabriel Rupanu to run in unhindered for an unconverted try.
Instead of shocking the team in green, it goaded them. It was like the minnows had poked the bear in the eye as within seconds Ireland were surging forward with Jamison Gibson Park sprinting in for a try which Sexton, who ended up with two tries of his own and a 24 point haul, went about setting records on the scoreboards.
In the blinking of an eye, we had met the Romanian physicality and slain it with subtlety allowing Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Beirne, Bundee Aki and the aforementioned Sexton to dot down by the break and give us a 33-8 lead, Romania having added a penalty to their try as the only scores they would be allowed in the course of the 80 minutes.
With our form good, the other two worries were red cards and injuries. Fortunately none of those rose their heads though hearts stopped momentarily when in scoring his first try, Sexton appeared to be hit late resulting in the outhalf holding his wrist as if it had been affected. Luckily, he was more miffed with the lateness of the tackle than the pain of his hand for he continued to play brilliantly until he was called ashore with 14 minutes left, a decision that he appeared unhappy with from his Head Coach.
There was great reason for buoyancy on the day with young second row Joe McCarthy continuing his meteoric rise with a try on his fourth cap. Indeed with a bit more luck he could have had three or four touchdowns as he was held up when in those positions on several occasions.
With the likes of old pros Sexton and Peter O’Mahony (both scoring two tries each) driving them on, Ireland kept up the fast pace in the searing heat with Bundee Aki, having the game of his life, crashing over for a brace of fine scores.
The last try came from Tadgh Byrne who showed guile and athleticism to fasten onto a pass and score beneath the posts for the last try.
Conor Murray and Jack Crowley got valuable game time in the final 15 minutes and both slotted in seamlessly to their roles as they kept Ireland on the front foot by scoring late tries per O’Mahony, McCarthy, Aki and Beirne. By then debutant Crowley had kicked his fourth successful conversion, not a bad way to introduce yourself to World Cup fare.
Afterwards, Sexton said he was “delighted to be back," after suspension ruled him out of three of the warm-up games.
"I'm delighted to get through some minutes, we got through some good stuff, but there's lots to improve on, both individually and as a team, and we know the challenge next week is going to be up a couple of levels. We're very, very happy with five points, and a good points difference as well, which could matter at the end of the pool.”
On the team’s display, he went on: "The guys work incredibly hard, the back three boys, in terms of their kicking. I thought they kicked a couple of great ones. I thought we had close to a 50-22 in the second half and then it's something we have to be incredibly good at for the rest of the tournament.”
The out-half’s Sexton's 24-points on the day meant he brought the all-time Irish tally to 1074, nine points back from Ronan O'Gara's record, something no doubt he will aim to surpass in Saturday's game against Tonga in Nantes.
He had none of that personal stuff in his sights and was thinking more of improving his play for the betterment of his team. "I don't think you ever play a game where you're 100 percent happy. We'll go and review the game as individuals. Hopefully I'm better for it [the game] and I can improve my performance for Tonga. Like I said, it’s going to be a much more difficult game, they’re obviously a different calibre of player.
"No disrespect to Romania, I thought they fronted up brilliantly and they were very physical but you see the team that Tonga have and we know their threat, they’ve had this weekend off and they’ll be just prepped for our game, they’ll have had two or three weeks to focus on our game, they’ve said that publicly. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us and we’re going to have to be ready, it’s a World Cup, it's week on week and we’ve got to be ready every week," he added.
Head Coach Andy Farrell was happy that his charges had done all that was expected of them on the day. Referring to the players keeping standards high to the last whistle he pointed out:
"Points matter. We don't know what different ramifications will happen in two, three or four weeks' time. It's important that we got off to a good start and rack up a few points, and that was the aim. To do that you have to stick to the process and I thought we did that pretty well and got our just rewards in the end.
"Before the game if you asked us if we'd be happy with the scoreline? Of course we would. I actually thought at half time we'd a few things to sort out, I thought we stopped the flow of our game quite a bit in regards to a few errors in our game, and discipline, and got a little bit frantic with our communications, certainly after line breaks there were a few passes on the floor etc.
"I thought after the break we were very composed, I thought we showed our intent, our togetherness as a team, how in-sync we were with the ball in hand, our fitness was great, and our skill level was pretty good as well," he emphasized.
He was gobsmacked at the number of Irish supporters who had travelled to cheer on their heroes. "They told me that 60,000 Irish homes have registered with World Rugby for tickets. You do the maths, whether it's two, three or four per household.
"The people coming from the UK, America, Europe... wow, what a journey this is going to be. I'm more pleased for them, that hopefully they've enjoyed themselves, and that the people coming in the next few weeks will enjoy it a bit more. Hopefully the journey has just started, and it's going to get a little bit better as well.”
Ireland: H Keenan; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Lowe; JSexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Herring, T Furlong; J McCarthy, J Ryan; T Beirne, P O'Mahony, C Doris Replacements: R Kelleher, J Loughman, T O'Toole, I Henderson, J van der Flier, C Murray, J Crowley, M Hansen.