Ireland ended the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2023 exactly where they want to be – sitting at the top of Pool B with five points and a very healthy points difference of +74.
They had some setbacks along the way, with Robbie Henshaw’s pre-match withdrawal for a hamstring issue followed by Gabriel Rupanu’s early try for Romania, but Andy Farrell’s men went on to score seven unanswered second-half tries.
Having missed out on squad selection for both England 2015 and Japan 2019, it was a special moment for hooker Rob Herring to mark his World Cup debut with a try from a five-metre tap penalty.
Speaking after the 82-8 bonus point win in the baking Bordeaux heat, he said: “It was a good start to the tournament, certainly a lot more to come. We can build from this performance.
“We obviously had a few things that we would like to fix, some losses of possession and stuff like that. But I thought the second half was really good.
“We scored some really good tries, so it was a good team performance all round. Tonga next Saturday is going to be a good challenge for us and we’re looking forward to it already.”
The Rugby World Cup performance analysis statistics from the first round showed that Ireland had the quickest ruck speed of all the teams, at just 2.17 seconds, while they also made the most metres (1091), line breaks (21), and offloads (23), and had the highest gain-line success rate of 67%.
What will grate for Herring and the rest of the forwards is that they lost four of their 12 lineouts, with the Romanians coming up with two steals. On the negative side too for Ireland were 13 bad passes and 17 turnovers conceded.
They have plenty of time to tidy up those areas for their round two tussle with Tonga. The 9pm kick-off time at the Stade de la Beaujoire should create a buzzing atmosphere under the floodlights, and the vocal Ireland fans are sure to make their presence felt.
“After the game when we were doing the lap (of the ground), you can kind of soak in the atmosphere a little bit,” noted Herring, who has scored three tries in his last five Tests.
“The travelling support we have is incredible. You could hear it during the game and they were singing after the game. It just reminded me of when we won the Grand Slam (earlier this year).
“Like we said earlier, we’ve probably got the best travelling support and we certainly heard them out there today.”
Herring’s Ulster front row colleague, Tom O’Toole, also came on to make his World Cup debut. He played the final half an hour against the Romanians, replacing Tadhg Furlong on the tighthead side of the scrum.
The 24-year-old acquitted himself well, doing his bread-and-butter set-piece work as well landing a dominant tackle and showing good hands to put Jeremy Loughman breaking into space.
Coming barely seven months on from his first Six Nations appearance, O’Toole said of his maiden World Cup outing: “First World Cup for myself and a lot of people in this group, there was definitely a bit of nervous energy this morning which is good.
We knew that Romania were going to be a passionate side. Coming into this game there was definitely a bit of excitement. Also a bit of nerves, but I think we handled it well.
“Obviously they scored first which wasn’t ideal early on, but I think we’re really proud of the guys in the group, the way we stayed composed, came back and put a performance in that we were happy with.”
The last of the Ulster players involved against the Oaks was Iain Henderson, the province’s captain. A second half replacement, he appeared in the mixed zone afterwards with a large shiner under his right eye.
Plenty of bumps and bruises were anticipated against a physical Romanian outfit, and with hard-hitting Tonga awaiting in Nantes next weekend, Henderson is ready to play his part, whether that is as a starter or coming off the bench again.
The 31-year-old, who captained the team for last month’s warm-up wins over Italy and Samoa, commented: “This is a brilliant squad to be part of. The staff have their plans sorted, and it was great this week training and prepping the starters as best as possible.
“So, look, whatever Paulie (O’Connell) and ‘Faz’ decide to go with, I’ll be right behind to make sure we are able to put the best performance in.
“At the same time, like I definitely want to be starting. But I’m ready for whatever happens and if it’s decided that I’m not playing, I’m still going to bring the best version of myself to training and make sure the guys that do start, or come off the bench or whatever, have the best prep so that we can hopefully get a good performance like we did, or we can do next week.”
Playing at his third World Cup, Henderson’s experience and leadership skills are a big asset to an Irish pack that started the tournament with nine World Cup newcomers. They include hooker Dan Sheehan who is coming back from a foot injury.
Mindful that there are tougher tests to come, Henderson added: “Romania got off to a flying start but I thought the guys who were on in the first half did an unbelievable job of just staying level-headed and moving on to the next task.
“After that we just kept the pressure on and took the opportunities when they were there, but probably left a few out there as well.”