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Ireland captain Johnny Sexton. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Rugby World Cup

Sexton shines on return as Ireland comfortably beat Romania in World Cup opener

Ireland’s attack tore the Romanians to shreds at Stade de Bordeaux.

Ireland 82

Romania 8

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Now, where’s that after-sun? 

Andy Farrell’s Ireland notched a new record World Cup victory margin as they put Romania to the sword in a slick, cohesive, and fun performance that the players clearly enjoyed in front of 41,170 people in Bordeaux.

Transport issues meant some Irish fans missed the start of the game and while Ireland took a little time to get into full flow in the 35°C heat, they were irresistible when they did. The Romanians scored an early try but it was all one-way traffic from there on as Ireland ripped their defence to shreds in scoring 12 tries.

Returning captain Johnny Sexton got through 66 excellent minutes at out-half, finishing with a record-equalling 24-point individual haul that also leaves him just eight points shy of overtaking Ronan O’Gara’s all-time scoring record for Ireland. The 38-year-old was precise in his decision-making and looked physically sharp.

There was a brief injury concern but it was only a knock to his wrist and Sexton continued. Indeed, he looked like he didn’t want to come off when finally called ashore for Jack Crowley in the final quarter.

So many of his team-mates impressed around him, few more so than outstanding centre Bundee Aki, who scored two tries and constantly caused Romania problems with ball in hand. 

joe-mccarthy-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-ronan-kelleher Joe McCarthy celebrates his try for Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Tadhg Beirne and player of the match Peter O’Mahony also scored braces, while Joe McCarthy, Jamison Gibson-Park, Hugo Keenan, and Rob Herring dotted down too.

Hugo Keenan was influential from fullback, James Ryan and player of the match O’Mahony led a strong outing for the Irish pack, while Herring was impressive once again at hooker.

Happily, Farrell was able to come through this game with all of his leading stars seemingly unscathed. He is expected to rotate for the second pool clash against Tonga but it’s pleasing to have avoided any obvious big injuries on the opening weekend.

He’ll be as pleased with how clinical Ireland were, never taking the foot off the gas in the second half as the Irish bench made a strong impact against the mismatched Romanians. There are lots of bits and pieces that Farrell and his assistants will pick up on for improvement, but this was a happy first outing in France.

Far tougher tasks lie ahead but given the sweltering conditions, this was a fine start. One had to feel for the Irish fans whose seats were in the direct glare of the scorching sun, but they were given plenty to cheer about at least. Ireland’s players must have found it heavy going at times but their energy rarely dipped and their World Cup campaign is up and running with a fair bit of momentum.

jamison-gibson-park-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-keith-earls-and-james-lowe Ireland celebrate a first-half try. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Romania’s third-minute try must have come as a horrific moment for Irish supporters who hold fears of World Cup collapse, with Adrian Motoc picking off an Ireland lineout before a long exchange of kicks ended with Romania out-half Hinckley Vaovasa scooping up Sexton’s grubber after Earls missed with a hack-on attempt. Vaovasa passed inside for scrum-half Gabriel Rupanu and he gleefully strode away to dot down.

Ireland responded within two minutes, though, with Sexton cleverly slipping Aki into space in midfield, from where he offloaded to Ringrose, who transferred the ball back inside to the support-running Gibson-Park, who finished to allow Ireland in front.

The second Irish try stemmed from an Earls turnover in Ireland’s 22, which allowed them to launch a brilliant multi-phase passage in which Porter and Furlong carried well, Sexton made smart decisions, then O’Mahony tipped-on to send James Ryan into a gap and he offloaded for Keenan to finish through the last tackle.

Ireland’s pack showed their power in the ensuing minutes with scrum and maul penalties, allowing them to march upfield and create another fine score. Lowe kicked through off the lineout strike, Keenan regathered, then with penalty advantage playing, Lowe swung a pass wide left for Beirne to finish in the corner.

It meant a 19-8 Irish lead for the first water break, and Ireland nearly scored again upon the resumption. First, Earls just couldn’t hold Lowe’s offload with the tryline begging and soon they missed another chance when Gibson-Park couldn’t reel in another Lowe offload.

tadhg-beirne-scores-a-try Tadhg Beirne finishes for Ireland. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland kept coming and their next threatening attack, a quick tap from Sexton, saw Romania fullback Marius Simonescu sin-binned for cynically playing the ball on the ground in the breakdown.

Ireland lock Joe McCarthy was held up over the tryline directly after the yellow card, when Ireland should have flashed the ball wide to Earls, but they added another couple of tries before the break.

Aki struck from long-range first, skinning one of the Romanian defenders and ignoring an inside pass option to barge over himself, then it was Sexton who concluded the first-half scoring with a converted try of his own – taking the offload from Aki after Gibson-Park quick tapped.

Sexton appeared to have hurt his wrist in the tackle of Jason Tomane as he dotted down but he popped over the conversion and re-emerged for the second half, which Ireland started well.

Early Romanian penalty concessions allowed Ireland into their 22, where they were caught offside. Hooker Herring tapped the five-metre penalty and smashed his way directly over. 

Sexton converted for 40-8 and also added the extras after the next Irish score, finished by Peter O’Mahony after a slick Furlong tip-on pass sent Herring bursting through the Romanian defence.

jamison-gibson-park-scores-a-try Jamison Gibson-Park scores for Ireland. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

With their bench coming on to good effect, Ireland kept their foot on the throat after the second water break, Sexton crossing for his second try in the 62nd minute, converting it once again.

Sexton departed but the scoring continued, with McCarthy barreling through and allowing Crowley to convert for 61-8 with another 12 minutes left to play. 

O’Mahony soon bagged his second in the right corner after another free-flowing passage of Ireland attack, while Aki grabbed his second when he barged over with five minutes to go. The scoring concluded with a length-of-the-field counter-attack from Ireland finished by Beirne, with the impactful Crowley central to the try.

The Irish players were enjoying it but you sensed that everyone present was glad when the final whistle sounded, greeted with a superb rendition of Zombie by the Cranberries. Time for ice baths and ice-cold pints.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Jamison Gibson-Park, Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Beirne [2], Bundee Aki [2], Johnny Sexton [2], Rob Herring, Peter O’Mahony [2], Joe McCarthy

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [7 from 8], Jack Crowley [4 from 4]

Penalties:

Romania scorers:

Tries: Gabriel Rupanu

Conversions: Gabriel Rupanu [0 from 1]

Penalties: Gabriel Rupanu [1 from 1]

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls (Mack Hansen ’60), Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Jack Crowley ’66), Jamison Gibson-Park (Conor Murray ’60); Andrew Porter (Jeremy Loughman ’50), Rob Herring (Rónan Kelleher ’50), Tadhg Furlong (Tom O’Toole ’50); Joe McCarthy, James Ryan (Iain Henderson ’56)); Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris (Josh van der Flier ’56).

ROMANIA: Marius Simonescu (yellow card ’32); Nicholas Onutu, Fonovai Tangimana (Tevita Manumua ’70), Jason Tomane, Tevita Manumua (Taylor Gontineac ’58); Hinckley Vaovasa (Tudor Boldor ’61), Gabriel Rupanu (Alin Conache ’74); Iulian Hartig (Alexandru Savin ’49), Ovidiu Cojocaru (Florin Bardasu ’55), Alexandru Gordas (Gheorghe Gajion ’52); Adrian Motoc, Stefan Iancu (Marius Iftimiciuc ’61) ; Florian Rosu (Dragos Ser ’61) , Vlad Neculau, Cristian Chirca.

Referee: Nika Amashukeli [Georgia].

Written by Murray Kinsella and posted on the42.ie

The 42 is the home of game-changing Rugby World Cup coverage. Click here for their trademark analysis, sportswriting, and all of the latest news from France.

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