KOBE – Ireland rebounded from its jolting loss to Japan by defeating winless Russia 35-0 in a humdrum Rugby World Cup match on Thursday.
The Irish made 11 changes for the pool match five days after the Japan result, and still looked well oiled in going 14-0 up in even time.
Japan and Samoa previously beat Russia by running the Bears off their feet — their wings shared seven tries — but Ireland preferred the direct route, taking on the Bears up front, and it wasn’t pretty or effective.
The Russians would have thought their dreams came true as Ireland lowered its sights to play the Bears’ game, a tight, set-piece affair. There were 39 set-pieces, and while Ireland made 11 clean breaks to Russia’s one, the Russians put up an effective wall with a tournament-high 182 tackles. Ireland was made to grind for every meter.
It took until Russia received its first yellow card for Ireland to score its third try just before halftime, and then not until Russia’s second yellow card for Ireland to earn the fourth bonus-point try.
After two tries in the first 12 minutes, Ireland could place only two tries in the next 50. A late fifth try from a breakout in the Irish half made the scoreline flatter the victors.
“There were 65 handling errors here in the previous two matches, and maybe we tried to make 65 ourselves,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said.
It was debatable who was happier: Russia didn’t score, but lost its last match to Ireland 62-12 at the 2011 World Cup.
“It’s a big day for Russian rugby and we came through with five stars,” Russia coach Lyn Jones said.
“The sign of a good team is attitude in your defense, and our players stood up today. We came and we knocked the Irish boys back. We played for 60 minutes without conceding a try and, for the supporter who doesn’t appreciate rugby, that’s quite an achievement for us. I’m absolutely delighted.”
Ireland scored after just 90 seconds from a set move off a ruck in midfield. Scrumhalf Luke McGrath and flanker Peter O’Mahony fed fullback Rob Kearney into a huge hole. Kearney, who passed concussion tests after the Japan game and still has a dark welt under his left eye, weaved 40 meters to the tryline.
The Irish were then quick to pounce on dropped Russian ball. After a couple of rucks, O’Mahony chased an expert grubber from Jonathan Sexton to score between the posts.
However, Kirill Golonotskiy, Russia’s only try-scorer in this Rugby World Cup, slammed his left leg into a post as he tackled O’Mahony and was carried off.
Ireland looked good at 14-0, just as it was when it led Japan 12-3, but the match meandered because of injuries — No. 8 Jordi Murphy limped off — and Ireland’s insistence on trying to flex its muscle in ruck after ruck. The Russians were only too happy to show off their muscles, too.
And it was effective until Russia lock Bogdan Fedotko was sin-binned for persistent professional fouls. Ireland used the man advantage to work flanker Rhys Ruddock over Anton Sychev with a helpful shove from prop John Ryan.
With a 21-0 lead and three conversions, Sexton’s first match as captain of Ireland was ended at halftime to perhaps save the star flyhalf for Samoa in nine days in Fukuoka.
For the Russians, no sooner was Fedotko back on the field, than replacement lock Andrey Ostrikov was sin-binned for a dangerous clearout, and they were back to 14. Moments later, a Jack Carty chip was grabbed by Keith Earls, who fed fellow wing Andrew Conway to take to the posts.
Then it was back to stalemate until four minutes from time, when a sweeping breakout finished with a Garry Ringrose try and, too late, Ireland discovered the Russian backs were no match for theirs.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5