Ireland 47 Samoa 5
This was timely and reassuring. Save for a few minutes after the double whammy of Samoa’s try and Bundee Aki’s sending off, this bonus-point win and with it Ireland’s safe passage to the quarter-finals was never in doubt.
The pack, containing seven of the forwards who set about strangling Scotland in the opening match, and six of the pack which started the win over New Zealand last November, were back in their familiar groove.
The lineout had a perfect return from 16 throws, their maul laid down a marker from the outset and their breakdown work (118 out of 119 recycled) was vintage Ireland, the first two effecting clearouts with unrelenting accuracy.
The game will be notable for Aki’s red card, but in truth this was defined more by Samoa’s ill-discipline. Not alone did two more yellow cards take their tally to seven in the tournament, their repeated infringements, at the breakdown especially, might have seen that total rise further. As it was the 17-5 penalty count gave Ireland continual set-piece entry points inside the Samoa’s 22.
Behind such a dominant pack, on the day they equalled the Peter Stringer-Ronan O'Gara record of 55 Test starts together,
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton – whose tally of 57, including two for the Lions, is the second highest in the history of international rugby – were also in a familiar groove.
They controlled the game with their decision making, kicking and execution. The World Player of the Year was simply class, and nothing did more to settle nerves after Aki’s dismissal than Sexton’s second try, a sharp blindside finish on half-time from Murray’s pass.
With their full complement of 15 players, there had also been a better shape to Ireland’s efficient attacking game, with more tip-ons, offloads, good angles of running and plenty of width.
As well as focusing on their clearouts, it looked as if Ireland had been working on their footwork too. Either that, or the prospect of full-on hits by Samoan players had encouraged them to employ their footwork more. Samoa can have that affect on opponents.
All told, Ireland were credited with beating 28 Samoan defenders, which more often was due to quick feet than sheer strength, save for the honourable exception of Tadhg Furlong. Many contributed to this, but none to the level of Jordan Larmour, the most naturally gifted side-stepper in Irish rugby.
Playing at fullback has always allowed these gifts to flourish more than any other position and his 17 carries were only eclipsed by the remarkable CJ Stander, who made 22 carries for 31 hard-earned metres in another huge 80 minutes. It ended with him taking over the captaincy and scoring a thoroughly merited try, his 10th in 38 Tests (which is some strike rate) but his first since the third Test in Sydney a dozen games ago.
As for Larmour, he made 66 metres and beat 11 defenders – both comfortably the most of any player in the match. There were also a couple of clean breaks, one of which, a show and go, included excellent acceleration and fend against Jack Lam and ended with a one-handed offload inside for the supporting to Sexton to score the first of his two tries.
His positional play, tackling and kicking were all good too, and there was also his finish off one of the passes of the tournament by Murray, which was Larmour's sixth try in 20 Tests, all but one of which have been scored from fullback. But only eight of 20 Tests have been starts and in the aftermath of this display Joe Schmidt admitted the gifted 22-year-old has suffered for his versatility.
"He was great," admitted Andy Farrell. "He was hard work to get hold of, that's for sure. He's a strong young lad as well. He's a determined kid and I'm really pleased for him because he's been dying to show everyone in the World Cup what he's got and certainly everyone got a nice little taste of it yesterday."
The pity was that Aki’s dismissal understandably narrowed Ireland’s attacking focus – in this arguably no team is better equipped to take a game to opponents for 50 minutes with 14 men – for all the outside backs continue to look in prime form.
Surprisingly though, there have still been no tries for Jacob Stockdale or Keith Earls yet, while almost unnoticed Andrew Conway now leads the way with three.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 4 mins Best try, Sexton con 7-0; 9 mins Furlong try, Sexton con 14-0; 21 mins Sexton try, con 21-0; 26 mins J Lam try 21-5; 39 mins Sexotn try 26-5; (half-time 26-5); 48 mins Larmour try, Sexton con 33-5; 65 mins Stander try, Carbery con 40-5; 70 mins Stander try, Carbery con 47-5.
IRELAND: Jordan Larmour (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander ( Munster).
Replacements: Andrew Porter (Leinster) for Furlong (45 mins), Niall Scannell (Munster) for Best, Joey Carbery (Munster) for Sexton (both 51), Luke McGrath (Leinster) for Murray (53), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster) for Healy, Jean Kleyn (Munster) for (both 57), Peter O'Mahony (Munster) for Beirne (60), Andrew Conway (Munster) for Henshaw (62).
Sent off: Aki (29 mins).
SAMOA: Tim Nanai-Williams (Clermont Auvergne); Ah See Tuala (Northampton), Alapati Leiua (Bristol), Henry Taefu (Western Force), Ed Fidow (Worcester Warriors); Ulupano Seuteni (Boredeaux Begles), Dwayne Polataivao (Unattached); Logovii Mulipola (Newcastle Falcons), Seilala Lam (Perpignan), Michael Alaalatoa (Crusaders); Teofilo Paulo (Unattached), Kane Le'aupepe (Hurricanes); Chris Vui (Bristol), TJ Ioane (London Irish), Jack Lam (Bristol, capt).
Replacements: Tusi Pisi (Toyota Industries Shuttles) for Seuteni (29 mins), Ray Niuia (Highlanders) for S Lam, Jordan Lay (Bristol) for Mulipola (both 46), Kieron Fonotia (Scarlets) for Fidow, Paul Alo-Emile (Stade Francais) for Alaalatoa, Piula Faasalele (Perpignan) for Paulo (all 51), Josh Tyrell (Oyonnax) for Ioane, Pele Cowley (Ponsonby) for Polataivao (both 71).
Sinbinned: Seilala Lam (6-16 mins), TJ Ionae (59-69).
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia).