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