Though their final position in Pool A is yet to be decided, Ireland have booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup 2019 following a bonus-point win over Samoa.
It was the performance Ireland fans had been crying out for throughout 2019. CJ Stander was back to his best, Johnny Sexton directed proceedings and Jordan Larmour put in a top-class performance that will have Rob Kearney sweating. It would have been the perfect lead-in to a quarter-final had it not been for the red card picked up by Bundee Aki.
Nevertheless, the positives greatly outweighed the negatives for Joe Schmidt’s side as they ran in seven tries and played a much more open brand of rugby.
Ireland signalled their intent from the start as they won an early battle of ‘kick tennis’ before Samoa were penalised for an offside in the maul. Johnny Sexton booted the ball into touch and from the resulting lineout, Ireland mauled over the line, Rory Best the man with the ball in hand. Sexton added the extras and within five minutes, Joe Schmidt’s men were seven points ahead.
Samoa were dealt a further blow when their hooker Seilala Lam was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Jacob Stockdale with referee Nic Berry citing mitigating factors as the Ulster winger was dipping. Ireland had doubled their lead by the 10th minute when Tadhg Furlong burst over the line following good carries from Bundee Aki and CJ Stander.
Samoa were relentless in the power of their hits but that also led to an increase in penalties for the men in green. Sexton continued to aim for the corner but in a rare mistake, his third effort went dead, gifting possession to Samoa in the scrum. Cian Healy was penalised in the setpiece, allowing the Samoans to set up their first real attack from the lineout. However, Ireland were more than up for the task. James Ryan stole the lineout, leading to a box kick from Conor Murray which Keith Earls superbly gathered. Another quick kick from the scrum-half pinned Samoa right back.
Ireland have been criticised for their ‘smash and grab’ approach so far in the World Cup but in Fukuoka, Schmidt’s side were more willing to play an open and running game and it was their quick hands that set up their third try of the game in the 20th minute. An excellent offload from Stander to Murray set off the chain and brilliant footwork from Jordan Larmour sent Sexton through and over the line.
Ireland looked to be flying high but then disaster hit. A loose pass from Murray to Healy was picked up and in the resulting breakdown, Robbie Henshaw, who looked off the pace all game, came in from the side and was penalised. This led to Samoa’s first try, courtesy of Jack Lam. Matters only worsened for Ireland when Berry issued a straight red card to Bundee Aki for a high tackle on Ulupano Seuteni and the centre could have no qualms with the decision after the TMO review.
29: RED Card!
"There is not enough of a mitigating factor there to bring that down to anything but a red"
Bundee Aki has been sent off for a dangerous tackle.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) October 12, 2019
With the numerical advantage, Samoa dominated possession despite good work from the likes of Josh van der Flier and Jacob Stockdale. Ireland, however, kept the pressure on and eventually the turnover came following which Samoa were penalised for being off their feet at the breakdown. Sexton again went for the corner and Ireland’s forwards took over. The referee signalled for a five-metre try and in a training ground stunt, Sexton ran up the narrow side and over the line. However, his conversion effort nudged wide leaving the score 26-5 at the break.
As if to prove a point with 14 men, Ireland went on the attack immediately from the kick-off and repeatedly attacked the Samoan line. On two occasions, Ireland were held up as Beirne and Larmour went in search of the fifth try. Eventually, it was the Leinster utility back who touched down after an incredible skip pass from Murray set up the opportunity. With 50 minutes on the clock, Sexton and Best were withdrawn, with the scrum-half soon following suit. Joey Carbery, Niall Scannell and Luke McGrath entered the fray with next week’s clash in mind.
By the 60th minute, Samoa had racked up 15 penalties and it was no surprise that TJ Ioane was sent to the sin-bin for persistent ill-discipline. Despite their dominance in possession and in the Samoan half, Ireland struggled to find their sixth try, though they continuously threatened the try line. Jackson’s side did manage to turn over possession at one point through a well-executed choke tackle but Ireland immediately regained the ball. Substitute Jean Kleyn looked to have touched down for his first Ireland try but the TMO deemed there was no clear grounding.
Ireland opted to go for the scrum from which CJ Stander, who was back to terrific form, barged over the line. They continued to show no mercy and their seventh try followed soon after. Again, it came as a result of Samoan ill-discipline and with the advantage, Carbery sent a grubber kick through which Andrew Conway chased and touched down. The Munster fly-half added the conversion to stretch their tally to 47 points in what was the final score of the game.
Ireland: Jordan Larmour, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Jean Kleyn, Peter O’Mahony, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway.
Samoa: Tim Nanai-Williams, Ah See Tuala, Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Ed Fidow, Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polataivao; Logovii Mulipola, Seilala Lam, Michael Alaalatoa, Teofilo Paulo, Kane Le’aupepe, Chris Vui, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam.
Replacements: Ray Niuia, Paul Alo-Emile, Jordan Lay, Piula Faasalele, Josh Tyrell, Pele Cowley, Tusi Pisi, Kieron Fonotia.
Referee: Nic Berry