Saturday 24 March 2018

Ireland’s Dad’s Army march on

Ireland 44 Romania 10

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Wembley's World Cup came to a close last night as the rugby posts came down, but not before an Irish-dominated crowd set a tournament record attendance of 89,297 while watching another strong Ireland win.

They even witnessed a marriage proposal to round off a memorable evening at football's headquarters.

The venue will be missed, but as the tournament moves on it looks like the European champions are growing into their task ahead of their first real test against Italy across town at the Olympic Stadium next Sunday.


Ireland's oldest World Cup team of all time showed their experience, but not their age with another measured performance as they ran the legs off a tired opponent.

Four-day turnarounds are difficult and Ireland ruthlessly went for Romania's weakness, keeping the ball for long periods and playing with huge tempo.

Five of their six tries came from back three players, with Keith Earls immense and Simon Zebo creating brilliantly. Tommy Bowe got his mojo back with two tries to match man of the match Earls' tally, but there will be worries over the glute injury replacement Rob Kearney picked up in scoring his try.

Tommy Bowe goes over to in the corner for his side’s first try despite the tackle of Ionut Botezatu
Tommy Bowe goes over to in the corner for his side’s first try despite the tackle of Ionut Botezatu
Ireland's Ian Madigan kicks a conversion
Ireland's Darren Cave is taken down by Romania's Florin Ionita
Ireland's Tommy Bowe scores a try
Ireland's Rob Kearney scores their fifth try
Ireland's Jared Payne powers forward

Up front, Ireland were mean, dominating the ruck with Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip immense as Devin Toner lorded the air and Richardt Strauss and Cian Healy brought huge energy from the front-row.

They know there are bigger tests to come, that they are yet to face a tier-one nation but they are in a good place with 10 points in the bag and a host of in-form players.

It might have been Ireland's oldest line-up in World Cup history but it certainly didn't feel that way as they started at a blistering pace and looked to run the Romanians off the park in a breathless opening half.

Lynn Howells had to delve into his squad while asking a number of the pack to double-up after losing to France on Wednesday and Schmidt's side clearly wanted them to feel the burn.

Romania kicked off to Ireland and barely saw the ball again. The half-time statistics showed the Six Nations champions had held 76pc of possession and had 71pc of the ball, with Romania making 103 tackles in 40 minutes.

Craig Joubert didn't have to preside over a scrum until the 34th minute and when the eastern Europeans finally got to their traditional area of strength, Ireland drove a tired pack backwards.

The only wonder was that the lead was just 18-3. Zebo was denied a contender for try of the tournament after 15 minutes as a series of offloads released him up the left and he chipped to himself to score, but the television match official spotted a foot in touch.

At that stage, Romania's discipline was already slipping and Ian Madigan had kicked Ireland 6-3 in front and the pressure told when Bowe marked his return to the starting XV with a try.

It was a fine effort. Earls brilliantly retrieved Eoin Reddan's box-kick and kept the ball moving through Henry and Heaslip who took a strong tackle and presented quick ball.

Healy popped up at first receiver, but spotted an overlap and fed Madigan who had numbers outside. What followed wasn't perfect as Jared Payne and Zebo failed to fix their men, but Bowe strongly held off Ionat Botezau's tackle to score in the corner.

Madigan nailed the conversion and Ireland kept up their relentless pace, denying Romania any pressure as Henry got in on their attacking ball on a rare foray into Irish territory.

Ireland missed an opportunity for a second try when they were almost too clever at the lineout, Devin Toner transferring to Donnacha Ryan whose pod was done for obstruction.

The green masses in the Wembley didn't have to wait too long, however, with the excellent Heaslip poaching a Romanian throw and Zebo lighting up the home of football with a 30-metre skip pass to Earls who showed two covering tacklers his heels to score in the corner.

Madigan almost had his pass picked off on the final play of the first half, but Csaba Gel couldn't hold the ball and Ireland got in with their lead intact.

If Romania thought there might be some let-up, Toner caught Madigan's pin-point kick-off and carried deep into their '22.

A Henry clear-out around the neck brought that to a standstill, but he made up for it with another ruck steal minutes later as Healy showed his skills with a chip in behind and Earls' chase forced Botezatu into a hurried clearance.


From the lineout, Ireland went to their maul on Jordi Murphy; Reddan slipped left and then deftly chipped for Earls to score his second try to equal Brian O'Driscoll's record of seven at World Cups.

Madigan again converted and the men in green went in search of a bonus point.

However, things got a little sloppy as the replacements began to come in and it would take until the hour-mark before they got their fourth try.

Florin Ionita was lucky to avoid a yellow card for taking Paddy Jackson in the air, but from the penalty Ireland mauled forward and Cave came within inches of scoring. Gal despairingly played Reddan from an offside position and was sent to the bin.

Like against Canada, Ireland went for the jugular and off another solid scrum Reddan looped on Jackson and put Bowe over in the corner.

Madigan converted, but missed his next chance minutes later when from another clever scrum move Reddan dummied right and passed left, Cave pulled the ball back to Madigan who fed Zebo who raced clear and put Rob Kearney over the line.

The Louthman was on for Earls who passed a head injury assessment but was taken off after returning from the check, but he then suffered an injury in scoring the try and had to be replaced by Conor Murray.

Still Ireland came and, after back three players had hogged the glory, the forwards decided it was their turn as they capitalised on more ill-discipline after another strong Cave carry by marching the Oaks over the line as Henry came up with the ball.

After all that, Romania belatedly joined the party with veteran second-row Ovidiu Tonita barrelling over under the posts.

Florin Vlaicu converted and, though Ireland pushed for a seventh try, they had to settle for what they had.

After they'd left, there was a small bit more drama to come as replacement scrum-half Florin Surugiu proposed to his girlfriend on the pitch and she said yes. A happy ending for Romania. More to come for Ireland as the serious business begins.

IRELAND - S Zebo; T Bowe, J Payne (P Jackson 58), D Cave, K Earls (R Kearney 49-56 HIA, 64) (C Murray 71); I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy (J McGrath 54), R Strauss (S Cronin 60), N White (T Furlong 64); D Ryan (P O'Connell 64), D Toner; J Murphy, C Henry, J Heaslip (capt) (S O'Brien 60).

ROMANIA - C Fercu; A Apostol (F Ionita 54), P Kinikinilau, C Gal, I Botezatu; M Wiringi (F Vlaicu 67), V Calafeteanu (F Surugiu 67); A Ursache (M Lazar 67), A Radoi (O Turashvili 56), P Ion (A Tarus 54); V Poparlan, O Tonita; V Lucaci (J van Heerden 60), M Macovei (capt) (S Burcea 68), D Carpo.

Ref - C Joubert (South Africa)

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