Sunday 21 January 2018

Irresistible Earls, midfield minefield and Irish Invasion – What we learned from Irish win over Romania

Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

Ireland made it two wins from two with a 34-point victory over Romania and here is what we learned from the bonus-point win at Wembley

Keith Earls playing his way into first choice XV

Things always haven’t gone the Limerick man’s way in a green jersey. The 27-year-old would surely have more than 43 caps for Ireland were it not for an injury-interrupted career, but he has taken his World Cup opportunities and today’s man-of-the-match is pushing for a place against France in the final pool match.

He scored one of only two first half tries, taking a brilliant pass from Simon Zebo and was industrious throughout. The second half he continued in the same manner, with his second his seventh World Cup try, equalling the record of a certain Brian O’Driscoll.

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27 September 2015; Keith Earls, Ireland, goes over to score his side's second try. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

He carried for more metres (87) than anyone else on the pitch and was a menace throughout as he sought to impose himself on proceedings right from the first whistle.

Excellent against Canada offensively and defensively, he has been Ireland’s main man in the first two games and is demonstrating on a world stage his undoubted natural ability.

Schmidt selection issues

In reality, today's assignment was more about individual performances, rather than the collective, with victory all but expected before kick-off.

Ireland's Keith Earls scores their third try
Ireland's Keith Earls scores their third try
Ireland's Tommy Bowe scores their fifth try
Ireland's Simon Zebo carries the ball during the Rugby World Cup match at Wembley Stadium
Rugby Union - Ireland v Romania - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool D - Wembley Stadium, London, England - 27/9/15 Ireland's Keith Earls celebrates scoring their thrid try with Devin Toner Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic
27 September 2015; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, goes over to score his side's first try despite the tackle of Ionut Botezatu, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Devin Toner, Ireland, takes possession in a lineout. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Keith Earls, Ireland, is congratulated by team-mate Simon Zebo after scoring his side's second try.
27 September 2015; Simon Zebo, Ireland, touches the ball down past the Romania try-line, only for the try to be disallowed due to Simon Zebo having played the ball in touch. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Keith Earls score his side's second try.
Ireland's Tommy Bowe scores the opening try
27 September 2015; Cian Healy, Ireland, is tackled by Ovidiu Tonita and Andrei Radoi, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Jamie Heaslip, Ireland, is tackled by Daniel Carpo, Alexandru Tarus and Viorel Lucaci, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Simon Zebo, Ireland, is tackled by Viorel Lucaci, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, is tackled by Valentin Poparlan, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; xxx, Ireland, is tackled by yyy, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Simon Zebo is tackled by Csaba Gal, left, and Viorel Lucaci, Romania.
27 September 2015; Jared Payne, Ireland, is tackled by Valentin Calafeteanu, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Keith Earls, Ireland, is tackled by Adrian Apostol, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's scrum half Eoin Reddan passes the ball during a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between Ireland and Romania at Wembley stadium
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to Darren Cave ahead of the game.

In that regard, Schmidt will be pleased with what he saw. Tommy Bowe put in an excellent shift on the wing and looks to be returning to the kind of form we expect from Ireland’s second-highest try scorer, while his dominance in the air will not go unnoticed by opposition.

Toner was a tower of strength in the lineout. He has his work cut out to dislodoge Iain Henderson as Paul O’Connell’s playing partner, but was imperious in the air and made a number of eye-catching carries, an area of his game often held up as inferior to his Ulster rival.

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Rugby Union - Ireland v Romania - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool D - Wembley Stadium, London, England - 27/9/15 Ireland's Keith Earls celebrates scoring their thrid try with Devin Toner Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic

Cian Healy looked like he had never been away from the international arena and the Leinster prop's performance will have brought a smile to all Irish fans. The loosehead was keen to get his hands on the ball at every opportunity and was heavily involved with Earls’s second try with a booming clearance from within his own half in the lead-up that Jonny Sexton would have been proud of.

Jack McGrath came on for the final 25 minutes but all of a sudden Ireland appear to be a formidable front-row force with tricky assignments against Italian and French packs before more difficult challenges on the horizon in the knock-out stages.

Nathan White will benefit from further exposure at this level while there will be no reservations if Richardt Strauss is called into the fray later in the tournament with a solid performance from the hooker and a key part of the breakdown.

Referees ducking out of decision making

With 20 minutes remaining, Paddy Jackson was taken out in the air by Romanian substitute Ionita. Craig Joubert, who was less than two metres from the incident, went upstairs for the TMO. After a two-minute delay, a penalty was awarded, with the Romanian player fortunate to escape yellow.

Quite why the South African whistler needed assistance with the decision is a mystery and only adds to the catalogue of similar officiating we have seen throughout the World Cup which has held up games at regular intervals.

The game needs to be sped up and while the TMO and technology is welcome for difficult decisions, match officials are over-reliant and need to take more authority to curb frustrations.

Home of English football becomes Irish rugby stronghold

Joe Schmidt mentioned it post-match, as did Jamie Heaslip and Keith Earls. In fact so loud was the Irish support that referee Joubert afforded the Romanian pack more time to get together in a huddle before a lineout to discuss tactics because of the deafening atmosphere within the stadium.

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27 September 2015; Devin Toner, Ireland, takes possession in a lineout. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

A world record 89,267 watched the bonus-point win and while Ireland didn’t require the ‘16th man’ to see off the international minnows, that incredible support could have a huge impact as the tournament progresses.

Midfield minefield

There is no doubt that Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw are the preferred pairing for Joe Schmidt. The Six Nations winning combination have yet to team up in the World Cup, with the Connacht star's hamstring injury meaning he is the only player in the squad yet to feature in the tournament.

Payne has faced criticism in some quarters for failing to unlock opposition defences, though following Brian O’Driscoll was always a difficult ask.

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Simon Zebo is tackled by Csaba Gal, left, and Viorel Lucaci, Romania.

Against Romania, Darren Cave demonstrated why he will offer competition for the number 13 jersey when he was shifted to outside centre when injury forced the Kiwi off.  The Ulster man, another who has struggled to make an impact at international level, showed his eye for a gap.

He finished the game with two clean line breaks (Zebo also finished with two) and his more natural spark at outside centre means Schmidt has more food for thought on his midfield combinations.

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