As expected, Ireland kept their Rugby World Cup ambitions on track after breezing past minnows Romania by 44-10 in front of a packed Wembley stadium on Sunday.
The contest broke the attendance record for a Rugby World Cup game with 89,267 watching inside the stadium, yet it was a straightforward and somewhat facile victory.
For it was a bit too much to expect Romania, who had been hugely physical midweek against France, to replicate that intensity with a four-day turnaround against a full side of professional players , the majority of whom hadn’t started a game in three weeks.
Saying that, Ireland won the game and won it well, yet such was the disparity between the sides that it would be difficult to gauge how much stock head coach Joe Schmidt put in the performance.
He certainly would have been none too pleased with a pedantic first-half Irish display. However, a better showing in the second period saw Ireland home with the full array of points (five) on offer and with no injury concerns.
There were a few standout performances from the men in green, with Keith Earls and Simon Zebo particularly impressing. The Munster men looked razor sharp with ball in hand and both put down markers for selection in the upcoming pool games against Italy and France.
Ireland received the ball from kick-off and for three minutes they didn’t give it back. It was a good opening sequence that saw them to within six metres of the Romanian line. However, an unforced knock-on saw the chance of an early try slip away. In hindsight, it was a signal for how the first-half would unfold for the Irish team.
Ian Madigan kicked Ireland into an early 3-0 lead but a few minutes later the sides were level, when Valentin Calafeteanu followed suit after Jared Payne was pinged for not rolling away from the tackle area.
Soon after, it seemed that Zebo had scored a wonderful first try. A spin and offload by Earls fed Richardt Strauss, who put Zebo in space. The full-back burned along the sideline, kicked past the last defender, re-gathered the oval and touched down only for his score to be correctly called back by TMO Shaun Veldsman for stepping into touch.
Madigan added a second penalty soon after to give Ireland a narrow lead in front of a partisan Irish crowd.
In the 20th minute, Keith Earls caught a box-kick from Eoin Redden and Ireland attacked from left to right. The ball was passed across the field to Zebo and onto Tommy Bowe, who finished well in the corner. Madigan converted to give Ireland a 13-3 lead.
Ten minutes later, Ireland scored a terrific second try when Simon Zebo took three Romanian defenders out of the game with a sublime skip pass to Keith Earls on the left wing. The Limerick man then sprinted untouched for the score. It was the highlight of Ireland’s first-half display and increased their advantage to 18-3.
In the final 10 minutes before half-time, Tommy Bowe caught two high kicks under pressure but Ireland couldn’t take advantage as they kept making errors that resulted in the scoreboard remaining unchanged until after the break.
Devin Toner caught Madigan’s restart at the beginning of the second-half and Ireland went on the attack from the off. Romania managed to stop that initial Ireland foray and got themselves back into the Irish half. However, a turnover won on the ground by Jamie Heaslip was moved to Cian Healy and the Leinster prop kicked the ball from his own half deep within the opposing ’22. A quick chase by Ireland saw the Romanian defence scramble the ball into touch.
From the resultant line-out Ireland scored again. First Jordi Murphy gathered from Strauss’s throw and Ireland mauled towards the tryline. Redden then took off down the blindside and dinked the ball with his foot past the Romanian cover for Keith Earls to score his seventh try in seven World Cup games for Ireland. Madigan again converted for a 25-3 lead.
Ireland were well on top at this stage and continued to win the ball off the Romanians but failed to capitalise on their dominance. It wasn’t until the final quarter that Ireland secured the bonus point. By that stage, Ireland had almost their full bench on the field.
First Darren Cave made a break for the line but was stopped short. Ireland then had a numerical advantage when Romanian centre Ionut Botezatu was given a yellow card for deliberately slowing the ball down as Ireland looked to move it wide to score a try. From that penalty award, Ireland went for a scrum and this time they did go wide.
Redden and Paddy Jackson exchanged passes before the scrumhalf fizzed the ball to Tommy Bowe, who scored in the corner to overtake Denis Hickey and become Ireland’s second highest try scorer of all time.
Four minutes later Ireland got in for their fifth try. This time Redden fed Cave who ran hard and passed to Madigan, who then put Zebo in space down the left wing. With one defender to beat, Zebo unselfishly put the ball back inside for Rob Kearney, who had just come on as sub, to increase Ireland’s lead to 37-3.
Ireland were now moving the ball a lot quicker from the breakdown area. By keeping the ball alive and moving it fast, they began to test the conditioning of their opponents. Darren Cave was now operating at second centre and made two line breaks in the closing stages.
When Ireland were awarded a penalty, Paul O’Connell took the decision to kick into the corner. From there, Sean Cronin threw to the back of the lineout where Jordi Murphy gathered. Ireland then mauled their opponents over the line with flanker Chris Henry touching down. Madigan again converted to bring Ireland to 44 points and that looked to be the end of matters.
However, in the dying moments, Romanian second row, Valentin Poparlan drove over from close to the Irish line from a second phase ball to round off the scoring. Two wins with two bonus points is what Ireland expected to achieve from their opening games. From here though, the contests begin to get successively tougher.
Ireland: Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Keith Earls, Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Nathan White, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip (captain).
Subs: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray, Paddy Jackson, Rob Kearney.
Romania: Catalin Fercu, Adrian Apostol, Paula Kinikinilau, Csaba Gal, Ionut Botezatu, Michael Wiring, Valentin Calafeteanu, Andrei Ursache, Andrei Radoi, Paulica Ion, Valentin Poparlan, Ovidiu Tonita, Viorel Lucaci, Mihai Macovei (captain), Daniel Carpo.
Subs: Mihai Lazar, Otar Turashvili, Alexandru Tarus, Johannes Van Heerden, Stelian Burcea, Florin Surugiu, Florin Ionita, Florin Vlaicu.
Referee: Craig Joubert.