Rugby World Cup: O'Connell glad to speed out of the blocks as Ireland lay down an early marker
Ireland 50-7 Canada
Ireland enjoyed an afternoon devoid of drama on Saturday as their World Cup campaign began with a resounding seven-try 50-7 win over Canada at the Millennium Stadium.
While England toiled, South Africa were shocked and France suffered the significant misfortune of losing Yoann Huget to a tournament-ending injury, Joe Schmidt's side endured no such hardships as they got off to the perfect start.
Ulstermen Iain Henderson and Jared Payne were on the scoresheet, a second international try for both, with Sean O'Brien, Jonathan Sexton, Dave and Rob Kearney, and Sean Cronin also getting in on the act.
The bonus point was secured by half-time and such was Ireland's dominance of proceedings on the scoreboard, the second-half resembled one of the summer warm-up Tests we were so keen to move beyond.
An opportunity to give his entire bench at least a quarter of action, it was exactly what Schmidt will have hoped for when he considered his first World Cup game as a coach and he was given a huge helping hand by an old ally.
The Kiwi's three-year stint at Clermont saw him act as assistant coach to Canadian captain Jamie Cudmore and it was an act of indiscipline from his former charge that turned the game.
Ireland led by just a solitary Sexton penalty when their opposition's enforcer received a yellow card for booting the ball out of the ruck but by the time the 37-year-old returned, the score was 22-0 and the game over as a contest.
His counterpart Paul O'Connell spent 10 minutes of his own in the sin bin but Ireland's 14 men held firm and Canada's only score came through a DTH van der Merwe interception with only 10 minutes remaining.
Admitting his error for the yellow, skipper O'Connell was relieved to finally get the long-awaited tournament under way.
"I am not sure but I think we were one of the last teams over here," he said. "In the southern hemisphere, you go over a bit earlier and enjoy the buzz a bit more.
"We came here a bit later so it was great to finally be in it."
On the sizeable travelling support, he added: "It was brilliant. The coach journey into the stadium was fantastic with all the Irish supporters in the streets. It's great to be in the thick of it now."
Sexton was awarded the man of the match award, and Schmidt was enthused to see his out-half carry out his gameplan.
"Jonny knew what we were going to be doing," he said.
"I don't think you can put quite that much together based on someone thinking on their feet. What you saw was the structure we put into the game because we felt we could stress them on the edges and they'd have to play (Jeff) Hassler and Van der Merwe up high.
"The thing is, it's having someone good enough to be able to do it so well. I thought he was a class performer."
Ireland played with invention, if not accuracy, in the opening stages but Canada would have taken the lead had Gordon McRorie's penalty from just inside his own half not fallen short.
Sexton kicked his side's first points of the tournament after 12 minutes when Canada were pinged for not rolling away and Cudmore's crucial card came soon after.
Without their skipper, Canada's line was crossed by O'Brien, then Henderson and finally Sexton.
The speed with which Ireland found the breakthrough after Cudmore's act of cynicism - O'Brien rumbling over from the subsequent line-out - highlighted its folly but further punishment was meted out when Henderson powered his way over with a helping hand from his provincial captain Rory Best.
In the 28th minute, O'Brien and Sexton combined well to put the former Racing Metro man into the corner, ending the game as a contest and beginning the chase for a fifth point.
The wait was short-lived with Ireland working another overlap and Dave Kearney stepped inside Van der Merwe to score the fourth try of the half.
Canada thought they'd scored just before the turn but Fitzgerald's dart out of the line saw the ball knocked forward.
With Ireland's job done, the second-half was lacking in intensity with O'Connell's yellow for offside the only early action of note.
Sexton and Murray were both called ashore, along with the entire front-row, and the substitutions revived the contest somewhat.
Cronin, on for Best, piled over from close range after Payne had been stopped just short of the line with Ulster's naturalised Kiwi then giving Canada their only try when he kicked straight into the arms of Van der Merwe.
Keith Earls led a terrific break and combined well with Rob Kearney to put the full-back in the clear before Madigan did the same for Payne two minutes later.
Having not played since April due to a neck injury, Cian Healy looked to have marked his return to competitive action with a score right at the death but the TMO rightly judged that the prop had lost the ball in the process of grounding.
Romania are next up on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, after which the bigger tests of Italy and France will loom on the horizon.
IRELAND: R Kearney, D Kearney, J Payne, L Fitzgerald, K Earls, J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Ross, I Henderson, P O'Connell, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin (for Best,60), C Healy (for McGrath 60), N White (for Ross, 60), D Ryan (for O'Connell, 75), C Henry (for O'Brien, 63), E Reddan (for Murray, 66), I Madigan (for Sexton, 56), S Zebo (for R Kearney, 79)
Canada: M Evans, J Hassler, C Hearn, N Blevins, DTH van der Merwe, N Hirayama, G McRorie; H Buydens, R Barkwill, D Wooldridge, B Beukeboom, J Cudmore, K Gilmour, J Moonlight, A Carpenter.
Replacements: B Piffero (for Barkwill, 63), D Sears-Duru (for Buydens, 48), A Tiedemann (for Wooldridge, 66), J Sinclair (for Gilmour), R Thorpe (for Underwood, 76), P Mack (for McRorie, 48), L Underwood (for Evans, 40), C Trainor (for Hassler, 40).
Match rating: 7/10
Man of the match: Jonathan Sexton - A world class performer who was just too good for the plucky Canadians.