Analysis: Bonus-point wins do not come easy

It may be time to start tempering expectations when it comes to fixtures between the Rugby World Cup superpowers and those who had to battle just to make it to Japan.

It may be time to start tempering expectations when it comes to fixtures between the Rugby World Cup superpowers and those who had to battle just to make it to Japan.

Uruguay’s win over Fiji should have given us an indication of what the so-called minnows are capable of, and the last couple of days have only underlined that.

France needed more than an hour to shake off a tenacious USA team, and while Ireland were never under any threat of being beaten here, they needed 62 minutes to secure the bonus point in a 35-0 win over Russia.

Teams have tried countless different ways of preparing for the humidity of this World Cup – particularly in the dome in Kobe and the three grounds in the south in Kyushu.

But the reality is, there is only so much you can do when the ball is like a bar of soap and building through the phases is not easy.

Joe Schmidt reminded everyone of just how many handling errors there had been in the two previous games at Kobe, and it was no different here as Ireland struggled to kick on after a good start.

The key was getting the five points and keeping their quarter-final hopes entirely in their own hands, even if the ball sometimes escaped them.

They did that, and will now get ready for Samoa in Fukuoka, knowing they have the opportunity to rest bodies and get closer to a full-strength squad with a potential quarter-final on the horizon.

That Samoa game will be Ireland’s last outside the Tokyo-Yokohama area, and considering how well they performed against Scotland, even as the rain came down, that should be a comfort.

Everything had started perfectly against Russia, Rob Kearney finishing a clever set-play off a ruck when Jordi Murphy fed him an inside ball reminiscent of the one delivered by Peter O’Mahony for Jacob Stockdale during the Guinness Six Nations victory over Scotland.

Kearney went all the way to make it three tries in his last three Tests, a statistic which makes his four years without a Test try prior to that seem all the more anomalous.

Johnny Sexton’s clever grubber in behind then allowed Peter O’Mahony to get the second and Ireland were 14-0 up in as many minutes.

Perhaps concerningly, as they had against Japan, Ireland seemed to struggle to press home their advantage from that point, although Rhys Ruddock powered over for a third shortly before half-time after Russia’s Bogdan Fedotko had been sent to the sin-bin.

That unease continued for the first 20 minutes of the second half, even after Andrey Ostrikov imitated the man he had replaced in earning a yellow card.

Finally though, they got the fourth try, a clever kick over the top from Jack Carty – on for Johnny Sexton at the break – collected by Keith Earls and then fed to Andrew Conway to speed away.

The tier two teams have set-up well in defence for the most part, but it has been a common theme to see them struggle to cope with kicks in behind.

France used it to good effect against the USA, and Carty had plenty of joy in the second half of this one.

New Zealand have already showed that it can be done, regardless of the opposition, so expect to see even more of that in the matches to come.

The pick of the Irish tries came from Garry Ringrose, finishing off a sweeping move down the left, and there was certainly enough here to restore some of the confidence that may have been hit by the Japan defeat.

There will be a concern over Murphy, who had to go off in the first half, and Schmidt took no chances with Sexton, who came off at half-time, and Conor Murray, a late inclusion on the bench instead of Joey Carbery but who did not come on.

Inevitably there is going to be some frustration at Ireland’s inability to wrap up the bonus point sooner against the lowest-ranked team in their pool, but considering the conditions and the selfless way Russia defended, the most important thing was to get five points.

In that sense it is job done and onto Samoa.