Rugby World CupMatch Report

Ireland tick all the boxes in Rugby World Cup opener but the heavy lifting is still to come

Ireland’s superior conditioning helped them punish Romania in the stifling heat of Bordeaux

Ireland 82 Romania 8

It’s doubtful any of these Ireland players or the estimated 30,000 Green Army which turned the squares, bars and cafes of the largest protected urban area on the Unesco world heritage list into an Irish carnival late into the night, have ever experienced a matchday heat quite like it.

The trams were sweat boxes which crawled to the Stade de Bordeaux, the queues at the ticket gates were just as slow, and some fans even sacrificed better seats by seeking the sanctuary of the shade. Yet everyone was in high spirits, Irish and French fans exchanging songs on the trams and in the ground, before The Cranberries’ Zombie bellowed out from the PA system and was adopted as a valedictory, post-match anthem.

Tougher tests await. This was Ireland’s easiest match of the World Cup. Yet while the performance wasn’t perfect, no one could have asked for much more, not the coaches, players or supporters.

The remarkable Johnny Sexton looked as fit as a flea, and that applied to all the 13 thirtysomethings in the matchday 23, not least Bundee Aki and Peter O’Mahony, as well as the younger players among the 10 World Cup debutants.


Indeed, not the least impressive aspect of Ireland’s display was how fit they looked, as well as skilful. This was typified by their refusal to kick the ball dead near their own line with the clock in the red. Mack Hansen started running around and looking for some space like an under-12s player, as Andy Farrell put it, before Aki reclaimed Jack Crowley’s dink to offload off the deck to Garry Ringrose as he broke free. And there was the 31-year-old Tadhg Beirne sucking diesel to run the support line for Ireland’s length of the pitch try in the 83rd minute.

“The way we’ve trained has given us plenty of opportunity to put guys through their paces. Rarely do we train without the ball,” said defence coach Simon Easterby on Sunday. And it showed.

“During pre-season there was a lot of conditioned match situations which allowed us to hit our straps yesterday. It took a little bit of time. The second half was much better and it was great to see at the end that we were still chasing down the points and giving the brilliant crowd in the stadium something to cheer about. So yeah it was pleasing that we got a lot of guys game time and we also got a lot of guys their first experience of World Cups as well, which is special.”

Admittedly, it wasn’t perfect. Ireland ran out of numbers in their attack and then defence for the opportunist third-minute try by Romania scrumhalf Gabriel Rupanu set up by impressive outhalf Hinckley Vaovasa, New Zealand-born of Samoan heritage.

There were another four lineouts lost on the Irish throw and after a three-try riposte, errors crept into Ireland’s game. Among the 17 turnovers were 11 handling errors before they were reignited by Jamison Gibson-Park’s quick tempo and Aki scoring one try and setting up another for Sexton. But this was an understandable consequence of their increasing ambition. There were also a whopping 27 offloads.

In general though, with conductor-in-chief Sexton in typical mode, there was a fine shape to the Irish attacking game.

The ball-playing interlinking of backs and forwards, deciding when to crowd the midfield channels or go wide, with options to do both continuously, showed what a difficult side Ireland are to contain with front-foot ball.

The Romanians put in plenty of big hits, making eight dominant tackles to Ireland’s four, and only towards the end did the energy evaporate from their defence, as Ireland ran in five tries in the last quarter.

Easterby admitted there were two ways of looking at this.

“I think we certainly grew into the game and got stronger. I thought the bench was excellent, they came on and contributed massively to that last quarter of the match, and I think as well the heat that we’ve experienced throughout the pre-season has helped us. And maybe the fact that the Romanians’ conditioning dropped a little bit in the last 20.

“They all came together for us to finish as strongly as we did and yeah it was really pleasing that we did kick on. Sometimes those games can get a little bit ragged and they can tail off a little bit in the last quarter, but it was pleasing that we finished strong and they made a couple of breaks, and we managed to scramble back.

“Then obviously we scored a pretty special try to finish at the end when Tadhg Beirne scored. I think he was pretty exhausted after running the length to try and keep up with Ringer and get the try.

“So yeah, it was pleasing the way that we stuck at it and we finished strong.”

Joe McCarthy also announced his arrival on the world stage and looks set to be a part of the matchday squad against South Africa after climbing up the ladder of locks. Yet it is evidence of how the entire squad have bought into the collective that Iain Henderson doesn’t seem to remotely begrudge McCarthy’s rise.

He heaped praise on the 22-year-old in welcoming his emergence, before saying: “I definitely want to be starting, but I’m ready for whatever happens. And if it’s decided that I’m not playing, I’m still going to bring the best version of myself to training each week and make sure the guys that do start or come off the bench or whatever have the best prep, so that we can hopefully we get a good performance like we did, or we can do next week.”

Henderson also revealed how much of a boost it was to the entire squad that Sexton, the squad’s oldest player, made such an impressive comeback.

“He holds himself to an incredibly high standard, that is first and foremost and for him to come out and train the way he does and be able to put in the performance as he does, to come in and not having played for a good number of weeks is phenomenal.

“But that is why he’s probably the best player in the world. That is why he is able to perform the way he does. Because he holds himself to high standards and he brings people with him.”

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins: Rupanu try 0-5; 5: Gibson-Park try, Sexton con 7-5; 13: Keenan try, Sexton con 14-5; 17: Beirne try 19-5; 21: Rupanu pen 19-8; 34: Aki try, Sexton con 26-8; 40: Sexton try, con 33-8; (half-time 33-8); 45: Herring try, Sexton con 40-8; 46: O’Mahony try, Sexton con 47-8; 62: Sexton try, con 54-8; 67: McCarthy try, Crowley con 61-8; 70: O’Mahony try, Crowley con 68-8; 75: Aki try, Crowley con 75-8; 83: Beirne try, Crowley con 82-8.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Joe McCarthy (Leinster), James Ryan (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher (Leinster) for Herring, Jeremy Loughman (Munster) for Porter, Tom O’Toole (Ulster) for Furlong (all 51 mins); Iain Henderson (Ulster) for Ryan, Josh van der Flier (Leinster) for Doris (both 56), Conor Murray (Munster) for Gibson-Park, Mack Hansen (Connacht) for Earls (both 60), Jack Crowley (Munster) for Sexton (65).

ROMANIA: Marius Simionescu (SCM USV Timisoara); Nicolas Onutu (CS Vienne), Fonovai Tangimana (CSA Steaua), Jason Tomane (CSM Stiinta), Tevita Manumua (SCM USV Timisoara); Hinckley Vaovasa (CSA Steaua), Gabriel Rupanu (SCM USV Timisoara); Iulian Hartig (RC Bassin d’Arcachon), Ovidiu Cojocaru (CS Dinamo), Alexandru Gordas (CS Dinamo); Adrian Motoc (Biarritz Olympique), Stefan Iancu (CSM Stiinta); Florian Rosu (CSM Stiinta), Vlad Neculau (SCM USV Timisoara), Cristi Chirica (CS Dinamo, capt).

Replacements: Alexandjru Savin (CSA Steaua) for Hartig (50 mins); Taylor Gontineac (Rouen Normandie) for Manumua (59); Marius Iftimiciuc (US Carcassonne) for Iancu, Dragos Ser for Tosu, Tudor Boldor (CS Dinamo) for Vaovasa (all 62); Alin Conache (Timisoara Saracens) for Rupanu (76). Not used: Florin Bardasu (CSA Steaua), Gheorghe Gajion (Stade Montois).

Sinbinned: Simionescu (32-42 mins).

Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times