Ireland v Romania: Five takeaways from 12-try Rugby World Cup drubbing

Romania's Gabriel Rupanu, left, celebrates scoring the opening try during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Ireland and Romania and Ireland captain Johnny Sexton on his way to the try line. Credit: Alamy
Romania's Gabriel Rupanu, left, celebrates scoring the opening try during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Ireland and Romania and Ireland captain Johnny Sexton on his way to the try line. Credit: Alamy

Following an 82-8 victory for Ireland over Romania in their Rugby World Cup encounter, here’s our five takeaways from the match in Bordeaux on Saturday.

Johnny Sexton’s return

It was not the most auspicious of starts for the fly-half. On his first game back in almost six months, Sexton handed Romania an early try with a poor kick. It was a bad decision and poorly executed, allowing The Oaks to stun one of the World Cup favourites after two minutes, but it proved to be mere rust.

Sexton would go on to produce a commanding performance as the Irishmen’s attack fired nicely during the match. Head coach Andy Farrell would not have been happy with some of the mistakes, especially after they had made the initial incursion but, in terms of the structure, intent and style they are looking to play, it was archetypal Ireland.

Jack Crowley has shown promise in his brief Test appearances so far, while Ross Byrne was a reliable back-up during the 2023 Six Nations Grand Slam triumph, but you could immediately see the difference with the 38-year-old playmaker in the XV.

It is an absolute must for the Irish that he stays fit throughout the tournament. There were concerns in this game when he clutched his wrist after being tackled by Tangimana Fonovai in the act of scoring in the opening half, but he was fine to continue. It was also a lesson for Sexton to put the damn ball down and not saunter over the line.

Pace and tempo

As intimated above, most of the things that have made Ireland successful over the past couple of years were in evidence on Saturday. There will obviously be tougher tests to come, but the style, as well as the effectiveness of their game, bodes well going forward.

Previous World Cups, especially in 2007 and 2019, have seen incredibly talented sides lack spark, even against the weaker nations, but this was very much the Ireland which has shone in 2023. That suggests the mentality is right, the conditioning is top-notch and that they are ultimately ready for the fearsome challenges that are coming their way over the coming weeks.

Romania simply could not deal with the tempo they put on the ball, as well as the continuity between forwards and backs in phase play. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Oaks also suffered more than their opponents in the searing heat. They tried manfully but, against the world’s best side, Ireland were too strong, too fit and too quick for the Romanians.

Lineout worries

Of course, the overall performance was nowhere near perfect – it will never be in the first match of a World Cup – and forwards coach Paul O’Connell will want to quickly sort out Ireland’s lineout woes. Although their opponents did a fine job of disrupting the set-piece, if Romania are having joy then you would imagine South Africa will be licking their lips if those mistakes aren’t rectified.

It was a particular problem in the first half as they lost two of their five throws, which will be a concern for O’Connell and Farrell. Youngster Joe McCarthy was in the second-row but, with regular jumpers James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony in the pack, it should have been smoother.

Obviously, it is not a disaster, and it at least gives Ireland something to focus on in their build-up to the Tonga match, but it will be interesting to see how that area of their game fares going forward.

Romania’s star, Hinckley Vaovasa

The phone lines at CSA Steaua Bucuresti in south Bucharest will be ringing off the hook throughout this tournament as clubs try to attempt to snap up the services of Hinckley Vaovasa.

The World Cup provides the lesser-known stars the opportunity to take the spotlight, and Vaovasa made a good fist of his first chance, having done so regularly for the Oaks in the Rugby Europe Championship in recent seasons.

Vaovasa usually plays centre for Romania, but the New Zealand-born star shifted to the number 10 jumper in their World Cup opener, and not only did he not look out of place, he was comfortably one of the Oaks’ best players on the pitch.

It’s difficult for a fly-half to shine in a big loss, but Vaovasa managed to do so, setting the opening try up superbly, kicking relatively well in open play and managing to hold up a charging McCarthy close to the line.

He gained over 100 metres in the first 40 and was the only Romanian player to beat an Irish defender in the opening half, doing so on four occasions.

If he can repeat his efforts in the upcoming games against South Africa, Scotland and Tonga, his fanfare will only grow.

Ireland set the mark in Pool B

The ‘Pool of Death’ may well come down to bonus points and points difference between the likes of Ireland, South Africa and Scotland.

The margins between the three tier one sides mean they must take the clashes against Romania and Tonga extremely seriously and rack up as many tries and points as possible.

Ireland are effectively the pacesetters as they will face Tonga in their second pool match.

Farrell’s charges have notched up a mammoth tally in their first outing, scoring 12 tries, 11 of which were converted. But we will only know how good of a total it is when South Africa and Scotland face off against the Oaks.

It may matter little if Ireland are to win all their pool games, but the Ireland coaching staff will be well aware of the threat that Gregor Townsend’s Scots and Jacques Nienaber’s Boks pose.

Playing the pair back-to-back puts further doubt on whether they will win all their games.

Ireland ran in five first-half tries, securing the bonus point, which allowed them to chance their arm a bit more in the second 40 and they did dotting down a further seven times.

They have set the bar, and it is a high one for starters, but time will tell if it was high enough.

READ MORE: Johnny Sexton racks up 24-point haul as Ireland cruise past Romania

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