Rugby Improved Ireland qualify for World Cup quarter-finals

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Ireland 47 Samoa 5

Mission accomplished, and with a good deal less drama than might have been expected, not least when Bundee Aki’s 29th-minute red card meant Ireland had to play the last 50 minutes with 14 men. But, already leading 21-5, they made light of their numerical disadvantage.

The bonus point required to earn a place in the quarter-finals was secured by Johnny Sexton’s second try before half-time and once the pack rolled up their sleeves again on the resumption for Jordan Larmour to score, the result was never remotely in doubt. They actually won the last 50 minutes 26-0.

With Tokyo being battered by Storm Hagibis – by kick-off here 800,000 households had been evacuated, 60 people had been injured and one had passed away, with the worst of the storm still to come – it seems inevitable that the Japan-Scotland game will be cancelled.

In that case, Japan will join Ireland on 16 points but top Pool A on the head-to-head, and so Joe Schmidt’s team would then face the back-to-back champions New Zealand next Saturday in Tokyo.

Although this will be remembered as the night when Aki became only the third Irish player to be sent off, after Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander, ironically it was Samoa’s comparative ill-discipline which went a considerable distance toward shaping this seven tries to one victory.

Loose as gooses at the breakdown, the 17-5 penalty count continually gave the Irish pack set-piece platforms in the Samoan 22.

They used it to good effect too, converting most of their 100 per cent return from 16 lineouts in opposition territory as well as seven scrums, and the accuracy of the first two men in after the tackle was back to this team’s trademark best.

Rugby Referee Nic Berry shows Bundee Aki of Ireland a red card. Photograph: Getty Images
Referee Nic Berry shows Bundee Aki of Ireland a red card. Photograph: Getty Images

James Ryan set much of the dynamic and clinical tone up front, while Stander was simply immense, with 22 carries for 29 hard-earned metres and a try after taking over the captaincy when Rory Best was called ashore. Tadhg Beirne made a major impact too with some exceptional lines in his 15 carries.

Behind them, Conor Murray and Sexton were at their imperious best, running the show supremely. Larmour, in particular, looked razor sharp, with one try-scoring assist and a finish, but with a man down Ireland were perhaps understandably more restrictive in their approach. But Joe Schmidt and his coaches have some interesting decisions to make, not least in the backrow and back three, even if once again their midfield has probably been chosen for them.

The in-goal area churned up a little when the Irish pack did some light scrummaging practice pre-match but, helped by no rain, the pitch held up pretty well after all.

On a breezy, less humid and warm evening, with temperatures in the low 20s, allowing for the awful re-laid pitch, the conditions were at least the most familiar Ireland had faced in the World Cup thus far.

Green jerseys were liberally sprinkled around the compact 22,000-capacity stadium and the Blarney Army’s response, as the Irish squad went into a huddle, was the night’s first rendition of The Fields of Athenry.

If nothing else Ireland have been starting games well and this was no exception. After two kicks by Murray and a fine return punt by Larmour, Ireland earned a 40-metre lineout from the game’s first aerial dual. Sexton tested Ah See Tuala in the air and then spiralled a 40-metre penal

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