Ireland got their World Cup campaign under way with an emphatic win over Canada in Cardiff, running out 50-7 winners. A comfortable victory was always expected, but the quality of performance produced by the men in green will bring confidence to the ranks and satisfaction for coach Joe Schmidt.
The Irish were cautious in the first ten minutes, preferring to kick tactically to ease themselves into the game and it was the Canucks who showed the early ambition through their back division. Fly Half, Hirayama, showed willingness to use his feet and Evans exhibited strong running with the ball in hand from full back. However, when Jamie Cudmore was handed a yellow card in the 16th minute, Ireland stepped up a gear. Sean O’Brien quickly took advantage of the extra man when he went crashing over from the back of a maul and then relentless pressure from the pack resulted in Iain Henderson crossing the whitewash after 24 minutes. Only 3 minutes later Johnny Sexton scored after hitting a sumptuous line, while Dave Kearney’s strong finish wrapped up a bonus point before half time.
The excellent standards set by Ireland in the first half were somewhat loosened at the start of the second and the Canadians began to find more intensity and possession. Paul O’Connell was carded and Ireland were forced to defend resolutely as an influx of replacements broke up the rhythm of the match further. The hugely influential Sexton was replaced by Madigan in the 55th minute and ten minutes later he fed fellow replacement, Sean Cronin, to bundle over between the posts. Jared Payne’s poor kick execution gifted a try to DTH Van Der Merwe to reduce the arrears, but as the game opened up further towards the end, converted efforts from Rob Kearney and Payne secured an emphatic victory for the Irish.
Going forward, it is clear that Johnny Sexton is vital to Ireland’s performance in this tournament. Yet again, he demonstrated both a variety and accuracy when kicking out of hand which is unparalleled in world rugby at the minute. Connor Murray and Rob Kearney were typically excellent in all facets of their game and the backline as a whole looked slick (with Robbie Henshaw still to return to the Centre to replace Fitzgerald). In the pack, O’Brien and O’Connell looked strong, while Iain Henderson scored his first international try and carried superbly throughout the game. For Canada, the levels of intensity shown at the opening of both halves will be taken as the main positives. Van Der Merwe was the stand out performer in red as part of a Canadian backline which showed glimpses of flair, while the pack will feel it is imperative that Jamie Cudmore maintains his discipline if they are to make an impact against their remaining opposition.
An expected victory for Ireland, but it was a very efficient and impressive performance which will settle the nerves for this much fancied side.