Decisive Rugby World Cup wins for Ireland and England, as Italy struggle
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Ireland and England pulled off decisive wins in their Rugby World Cup openers on Sunday, while Italy struggled somewhat against minnows Namibia.
Ireland powered past Six Nations rivals Scotland 27-3 to put themselves in the box seat to reach the quarter-finals at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
Three push-over tries in the first half did the damage before wing Andrew Conway grabbed a fourth after the break to secure a bonus-point win, with games to come against Japan, Russia and Samoa in Pool A.
With a sea of green-clad Ireland supporters dominating the stands at a packed but wet International Stadium Yokohama, Ireland were in no mood to be nice to their Six Nations rivals.
In a brutally physical game, in which the medics were rushed off their feet, Ireland bossed the breakdown and held a commanding 19-3 lead at half-time.
As the intensity of the rain increased in the second half it was Ireland who relished the deteriorating weather most with a further eight points.
Conor Murray was given a dream ride behind a rampant forward pack, directing traffic with aplomb, particularly with an on-target kicking game, and pre-match concerns about Ireland's reshuffled backline quickly evaporated.
Scotland, meanwhile, did not help themselves with a weak defensive effort while being unable to penetrate the green wall in front of them.
The bonus-point win put Ireland level with hosts Japan with their first-round victories in Pool A, and the two go head-to-head next weekend.
James Ryan, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Conway scored for Ireland with Johnny Sexton and Murray landing a conversion each and Jack Carty kicked a penalty.
For Scotland, Greig Laidlaw's first-half penalty was their only score.
Comfortable win for England
By comparison to Ireland’s performance, England were relatively comfortable in beating Tonga 35-3 with a four-try bonus point at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday, without the former champions being compelling in the opening game of its campaign.
Samoa-born center Manu Tuilagi scored two tries in the first half to put England clear and Tonga didn't come close to an upset in the Pool C game at Sapporo Dome.
England made 13 handling errors and missed out on more tries with some inaccurate finishing. And the performance wasn't up to the standard of England's comprehensive wins over Ireland and Italy in its last warmups.
But coach Eddie Jones was happy, he said. Happy to get out of Sapporo with a win, a bonus point and no major injuries at the start of a tough group campaign that will see the 2003 World Cup winner face Argentina and France back-to-back in its last pool games.
"We're really pleased. We came here to get five points, we got five points. We got no injuries. We know we can play better," Jones said.
One overwhelming positive for England was the performance of Tuilagi, who relished taking on the Tongans.
His tries showed the range of his talents.
He bashed his way through a pack of Tongan defenders for his first. Then he skipped clear out wide for his second after England created an overlap on the left and wing Jonny May fed him an inside ball.
But England didn't secure the bonus point until three minutes from the end through replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie. Hooker Jamie George had England's third try early in the second half from a rolling maul.
Italy off-key against minnows Namibia
Italy had more of a difficult day. Their coach Conor O'Shea said his team were "disappointed" with their Rugby World Cup start after they were forced to come from behind in an error-strewn 47-22 win over lowly Namibia on Sunday.
Talisman captain Sergio Parisse became only the third man to play in five Rugby World Cups but even he admitted it was "not maybe a really nice match to see" as wind and at times torrential rain lashed the Hanazono Stadium.
Often Six Nations whipping boys, Italy are targeting their October 4 clash against South Africa as a possible route to reaching the knock-out stages for the first time but this patchy display will not leave the Springboks unduly worried.
"We'll have to move on from that pretty quickly. It wasn't very pretty. There's too many errors in it," said O'Shea.
"It was difficult conditions at times in the second half, which doesn't excuse it. But we'll be disappointed with the way we played... that's not the true version of us," said the Irishman after the bonus-point win.
Namibia's defence coach had promised to treat fans to an impromptu haka if his minnows pulled off a shock and it was the unfancied Welwitschias who started the brightest.
The underdogs led with only five minutes on the clock, seizing on an overthrown line-out to produce a flowing move down the right flank finished off acrobatically by scrum-half Damian Stevens.
Italy hit back within minutes, a Parisse-inspired push-over in the scrum resulting in a penalty try as Namibia collapsed on their line.
The Italians squandered several chances in a nervy and mistake-ridden first half but eventually took the lead in the 26th minute as they unpicked the Namibian defence for fly-half Tommaso Allan to touch down under the posts.
The champagne moment of the match came on the stroke of half-time as Federico Ruzza's no-look pass let in Tito Tebaldi for a try, well converted to give the favourites a 21-7 lead at the break.
With the match being played on the fringes of a typhoon, rain hammered down in the early part of the second half and Italy extended their advantage almost immediately through an Edoardo Padovani try after a clever kick behind Namibian lines.
Italy never looked in danger of losing the match, scoring three further tries via Carlo Canna, Jake Polledri and Matteo Minozzi, but the spirited Namibians refused to lie down and a touch-down from winger JC Greyling was greeted with roars from the capacity crowd.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)