World number one ranked team Ireland got their Rugby World Cup campaign off to a sublime start as they secured a record 82 – 8 victory over Romania.
Romania stunned the largely Irish crowd as they scampered over for the opening try, courtesy of Gabriel Rupanu.
The silence would be temporary as Ireland struck back immediately as scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park rang a well-timed support line off a bustling Bundee Aki to go in under the posts. Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton, playing in his first match since March, knocked over the conversion from right in front.
Speaking of Sexton, the 38-year-old continued his remarkable trend of returning from long lay-offs without missing a beat. Scoring two tries and missing just one shot at goal, Sexton’s performance around the park again reminded the world of his importance to the Irish machine.
Elsewhere, Aki took the first steps towards securing the Irish number twelve shirt as he put on a deeply impressive performance. Seemingly breaking the line at will before utilising deft offloads to set off the Irish strike runners, Aki was the fulcrum from which the Irish attack launched. His efforts would not go unrewarded as he crossed for two tries of his own to cap off a great afternoon’s work. Above all else, working in Aki’s favour was his silky smooth combination with Sexton and outside centre Garry Ringrose. Laying down a marker for Robbie Henshaw to chase, Aki now looks to be the player in control of the shirt.
In the pack, 22-year-old secondrow Joe McCarthy could prove to be Ireland’s bolter for this tournament. The 6’6” and 120kg Leinster lock was a destructive force in every facet of the game, in particular at maul time, where he shut down several Romanian attacks. A physical specimen unlike many Ireland have produced, McCarthy will have given Farrell and his coaching staff plenty to think about ahead of Ireland’s crunch clashes with South Africa and Scotland.
McCarthy’s addition to the secondrow saw Tadhg Beirne shift to the backrow, where he was nothing short of World Class again. Combining with Munster teammate Peter O’Mahony and number eight Caelen Doris, the heavyweight Irish pack smothered their opponents. Each crossing for two tries, Beirne and O’Mahony could be in a direct shootout for the number six shirt should McCarthy remain in the starting line-up.
In what was overall a pleasing afternoon for Farrell and his squad, the return of Sexton and the impetus given from the bench will have been the highlights.
On the other side of the result, Romania showed plenty of fight and did ask questions of Ireland at times. Unfortunately, however, they simply couldn’t get parity at scrum time and struggled to slow down the lightning-quick Irish ruck.
Had the pack managed to get some quality ball, the impressive Hinckley Vaovasa and Jason Tomane would’ve caused more damage to the Irish defence. Irrespective, the two New Zealand-born backline players were real bright spots for an otherwise overmatched team.
Next up for Ireland is what is to be a bruising encounter with Tonga next week, Saturday 16th, in Nantes at 8 pm.
For Romania, things don’t get any easier as they face reigning World Champions South Africa on Sunday 17th, once again in Bordeaux in the mid-afternoon heat at 2 pm.