Rugby World Cup: In-form Tommy Bowe impresses ahead of pool deciders
Ireland 44-10 Romania
Wembley Stadium turned green yesterday as Ireland maintained their perfect start to the World Cup with a demolition of Romania.
Ulster winger Tommy Bowe provided a timely reminder of his abilities with a try in each half of the game, a feat matched by Keith Earls on the opposite wing, while Chris Henry and Rob Kearney were also on the scoresheet.
A record World Cup crowd of 89,267 watched on and, having been reduced to the role of spectator himself last week, it will be Bowe that grabs the headlines following his two-try salvo.
Following a much publicised off-colour showing against England in the final World Cup warm-up Test, the Monaghan man was left out of the 23 that faced Canada in their tournament opener and his return to the starting side yesterday was just one of 12 changes.
Those coming in knew they had been afforded one last chance to impress before Joe Schmidt settles on a first-choice XV for the pool-defining games with Italy and France and it was those fighting for minutes who impressed with the two-time Lion at the forefront.
His first came courtesy of a fine finish in the right corner when Ionut Botezatu was doing his utmost to drive the 31-year-old into touch (below), while the second, when he was on hand to finish after the ball was moved wide off an attacking scrum, represented a personal milestone and moved him into second-place in the all-time Irish try-scoring charts.
With Earls earning the man-of-the-match accolade, Bowe will hope that his performance back in the familiar number 14 jersey is enough to keep his place ahead of Dave Kearney when the team is named on Friday for this weekend's clash with Italy. The performance from Ireland came on the back of eight days' preparation for the contest while Romania, having been denied a crack at tier one nations for years, were asked to play two in the space of four days having met France on Wednesday evening.
Their plans were further disrupted by the loss of Oyonnax flanker Valentin Ursache to a one-week suspension on Saturday but their less than ideal build-up was not apparent in the early stages.
While Richardt Strauss forced a penalty for Ian Madigan to kick Ireland into the lead after just six minutes, it was to be the only early breach of what was a stubborn Romanian rearguard.
The huge numbers in attendance were in fine voice but it was the isolated pockets of Romanian support that were given something to cheer when Catalin Fercu, the Saracens full-back, led a smart break.
Despite his apparent best efforts Jared Payne was pinged for not rolling away and Valentin Calafeteanu kicked the resulting penalty.
A response seemed to arrive immediately when Simon Zebo touched down in the corner moments later, after Keith Earls had somehow fielded a sky-high kick without straying into touch and Strauss showed a good pair of hands, but despite the beliefs of both the crowd and scoreboard operator the full-back had stepped over the sideline during the build-up to what would have been an eighth international try.
Another Madigan penalty, restored the lead as the second quarter began but a pair of tries, first from Bowe, and then a deserved score for Earls off a brilliantly fizzed pass by his provincial teammate Zebo, had Ireland very much back in control come half-time.
Battling understandable fatigue, Romania had performed admirably in defence but, lacking both possession and territory, it was hard to establish a fair reflection of their efforts on the scoreboard and when Earls grabbed a second just three minutes after the restart it was one-way traffic.
The product of a fittingly deft flick of the boot from Eoin Reddan at the home of football, Earls gathered his scrum-half's grubber and went over in the corner, enough for the Limerick man to match Brian O'Driscoll's Irish record for tries at a World Cup.
Ulster's Paddy Jackson came on just ahead of the hour mark to make his World Cup debut and the out-half's first action was to be clattered in an aerial collision by his opposite number Florin Ionita.
The penalty was sent to the corner and moments later a Darren Cave break produced the pressure that would see Csaba Gal sent to the bin for cynical play on his own goal line.
Just as Ireland had done against Canada in their opening match, their opponent's numerical disadvantage was ruthlessly exploited as first Bowe, and then substitute Rob Kearney, crossed the whitewash before Gal returned.
There was still time for Henry to mark the occasion of his first World Cup start with a try, a remarkable moment for the flanker after his heart scare just 11 months ago.
Romania had the final say when lock Ovidiu Tonita charged over after a close range line-out but Ireland fans were already looking forward to tthe Olympic Stadium next Sunday.