This was more like it from Ireland, a convincing seven-try 47-5 win over Samoa in Fukuoka that will inflate optimism that they just might be able to create history next weekend by winning a World Cup quarter-final for the first time.
Sitting top of Pool A on 16 points, they won’t know until Sunday exactly when and who they will face in that knockout stage match.
A typhoon-enforced cancellation of the Japan-Scotland match would see both those teams awarded two points each, enough for the tournament’s host nation to join Ireland on 16 points, top the pool by virtue of having the better head-to-head and secure the quarter-final versus South Africa that would direct a second-place Ireland into a meeting with defending champions New Zealand.
Whatever the outcome of that particular conundrum, Ireland can at least go forward into the last-eight with their wavering confidence somewhat restored after a fortnight where they were defeated by the Japanese and were scratchy versus minnows Russia.
Unlike in those previous two outings, where they enjoyed respective early 12-3 and 14-0 leads and then went on to struggle, here they encouragingly built on the 21-0 advantage they had locked in by the 21st minute, even competently offsetting the damage that was Bundee Aki’s 29th minute red card.
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That expulsion is likely to rule the high-tackling Aki out of the remainder of the tournament, but in the likes of the rejuvenated Johnny Sexton-Conor Murray partnership and the pack aggression exhibited by soldiers such as Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan, a foundation exists for Ireland to build on despite the fact that Samoa were unquestionably a very poor side. Here’s how RugbyPass rated the Irish players:
15. Jordan Larmour – 7
A safe pair of hands in his third start at full-back in Ireland’s last eight games. Lit up the contest with his first major front foot impression, executing a beautiful show-and-go on 21 minutes approaching the 22 to zip between Ed Fidow and Jack Lam to set up Sexton’s first try. Was held up over the line on 48 minutes but made it over to score off the next play from a whipped Murray pass. Has left Joe Schmidt with a quarter-final decision on whether to stick by him or recall veteran Rob Kearney.
14. Keith Earls – 5
A generally quiet game by his considerably high standards. Threw a loose pass on 33 minutes that temporarily handed Samoa the initiative to try and claw their way back. Much improved in the second half. Made one early break. Was then illegally blocked for a potential try on 47 minutes off a Sexton grubber kick and then ran the smart decoy that allowed Murray put Larmour in.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 12, 2019
13. Robbie Henshaw – 4
Rusty contribution in only his seventh start in partnership with the 23-cap Aki – and only their second together since June 2018. His first start at this World Cup after a hamstring injury was very flawed. During the opening half there was a soft knock-on as Sexton went on the loop, a penalty at the ruck which laid the platform for Samoa’s lone try and then it was his wild pass that created the awkward situation which led to Aki’s red card on 29 minutes. Hooked on 62 minutes.
12. Bundee Aki – 3
A night to forget. Got lucky with a risky pass on 13 minutes that was intercepted but fortunately called back for a penalty. That good fortune evaporated 16 minutes later when Henshaw’s passing inaccuracy exposed him and he frantically clattered into Ulupano Seuteni with a shoulder to the head. With his red card unlikely to be rescinded, his World Cup looks over as three weeks is the average ban at the tournament.
11. Jacob Stockdale – 5
Shaken early on by a shoulder to the head from Seilala Lam, who was yellow carded for the collision. Showed appetite to hunt on opposite flank when necessary. Also made important interception in his 22 on 30 minutes to snuff out Samoa’s first attack after the red card. Featured little in attack after Ireland were reduced to 14 and narrowed their approach.
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10. Johnny Sexton – 9
Coughed up a couple of possessions but otherwise produced a Rolls Royce display that owed so much to his long experience in the game. Exerted near total control and was rewarded with two well-taken first-half tries, the second on 39 minutes off a Murray pass being especially crucial as it secured the try bonus point and also created a necessary three-score advantage going into the second half. Pulled on 50 minutes for Joey Carbery to help ensure he is flying fit for quarter-final.
9. Conor Murray – 9
Was the epitome of composure for nearly all of his 53 minutes on the loose-turfed Fukuoka pitch. Noticed early that Samoa were filling the back field to counter any kicks, so he relied more heavily on a pass that looked very slick and was the assist for a couple of tries. Wasn’t completely perfect, though. His pass on 24 minutes eluded Cian Healy and provided Samoa the impetus for their only try.
1. Cian Healy – 6
Generally did what he needed to do to help Ireland exert the type of physicality necessary to subdue the Samoan big-hitters. Missed a few tackles and gave up a penalty at the scrum for not driving straight. Was otherwise diligent in producing 57 minutes of honest graft before giving way to Dave Kilcoyne.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 11, 2019
2. Rory Best – 6
Similar to Healy, he was off kilter with a couple of tackles but the nuts and bolts of his game were on the money, particularly his lineout throwing. Opened the scoring with an early maul try that set the tempo. Then, as with Sexton, Murray, Furlong and Ryan, he was whipped off early enough with the job done at 33-5.
3. Tadhg Furlong – 9
The pick of the starting Ireland forwards. Lack of serious heft in the carry undermined the pack effort in the loss to Japan, but he led the drive here with a reported 23-metre gain off five first-half carries. Exhibited excellent footwork to claim a ninth-minute try and then gobbled up the first Samoan lineout before nearly grabbing a second try two minutes before the break only to be held up short. His last act was earning the early second-half penalty that gave Ireland the platform to build the pressure that led to the game-ending fifth try.
4. Iain Henderson – 6
Look better this week but the major question will be can he now go on and string two calibre performances together back-to-back, which has been a repetitive weakness in his game. Took the lineout catch for opening try from Best on four minutes and did so again for the maul-initiated move that sparked Furlong’s score. Struggled to break the gain line on the carry but went the full 80 to highlight his engine on the night.
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5. James Ryan – 8
Curiously made Ireland’s first mistake, knocking on as they countered on the kick-off receipt following the restart at 7-0. Highlighting this error equates to nit-picking, though, as he was once more the general in setting the tone and was to the fore in helping to ensure that Ireland didn’t blink on this occasion as they did against Japan and Russia following similarly promising starts. Showed his latent athleticism with an excellent steal when Samoa had a 16th minute lineout in the Irish 22. Lasted 57 minutes before giving way to Jean Kleyn.
6. Tadhg Beirne – 7
Finally appeared as if his face fitted at this level with Ireland. Was busy throughout his hour-long contribution before allowing Peter O’Mahony a 20-minute run and there will surely be a selection debate on whether Beirne’s ball carrying ability is more valuable to Ireland than O’Mahony’s nuisance value on the other side of the ball. Was called on at the first Irish lineout, which his seamlessly caught, and his performance built from there.
7. Josh van der Flier – 6
The chopper was his team’s busiest tackler, which is his selection calling card. Was held up short on 45 minutes before Furlong got over without grounding, but the question remains does he do enough on the ball to give Ireland the best shot at creating history by winning a quarter-final?
Ireland promised after 2015 they would not be caught winging it at the 2019 RWC with an inexperienced out-half starting at No10 in a big match in place of Johnny Sexton, but they have not delivered on that aim https://t.co/Y2QThUAiJW
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 27, 2019
8. CJ Stander – 6
Another whose tackling was more miss than hit in the opening half, but he came more into the fray in the second half when multiple mainstays of the team were substituted early. His try on 65 minutes rounded off a lengthy series of pick-and-go during the period when Samoa had their second yellow card. Will need to be better next weekend in the early stages.
16. Niall Scannell – 6
Arrived in for Best on 50 minutes and continued Ireland’s efficiency at the lineout as well as showing up in the general exchanges.
17. Dave Kilcoyne – 5
Had done well in other appearances this season in getting his hands on the ball but his impact was limited here during the 23 minutes he was on for Healy.
18. Andrew Porter – 6
The first replacement sent on by Schmidt, replacing Furlong on 45 minutes. Readily volunteered to make some hard yards in the tight during a period of the game when Ireland’s attack severely narrowed and revolved around the pick-and-go.
19. Jean Kleyn – 5
Was like Porter in pitching in with hard-won minuscule carries in the tight during his 23 minutes for Ryan. Held up over the line on 62
20. Peter O’Mahony – 5
Looked out on his feet versus Russia and was rightly limited to a 20-minute role off the bench here to allow Beirne find his feet. Didn’t have much to do when he appeared.
21. Luke McGrath – 6
Introduced on 53 minutes to give the invaluable Murray a rest, he relatively kept the tempo high to assist Ireland secure two more tries and round off their comfortable win.
22. Joey Carbery – 6
Thrown in on 50 minutes for Sexton with the result already in the bag. Showed encouraging vision to execute the sweet kick that put Andrew Conway in for his try.
23. Andrew Conway – 6
This guy’s enthusiasm is infectious and he is developing a canny knack of delivering the goods, fastening onto Carbery’s grubber to score on 70 minutes.
WATCH: What rugby fans can expect in Fukuoka at night during the World Cup
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