Analysis: Clinical Ireland move through the gears

It was not quite the perfect evening for Joe Schmidt but Ireland will take a lot from this victory over Samoa in Fukuoka.

It was not quite the perfect evening for Joe Schmidt but Ireland will take a lot from this victory over Samoa in Fukuoka.

Clearly the black mark will be Bundee Aki’s red card. His high tackle in the first half on Ulupano Seuteni saw him become the first Ireland player to be sent off at a World Cup, and now puts his quarter-final hopes in jeopardy.

Aside from that though, Ireland secured the bonus point they needed before half-time and Schmidt was then able to bring off his big guns with half an hour remaining to preserve them in a 47-5 success.

Depending on the outcome of Japan against Scotland, Ireland will take on either New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-finals in Tokyo next weekend.

They will do so with a rolling maul that is functioning, leading to Rory Best’s first try and helping set up the second from Tadhg Furlong.

Furlong was exceptional in the 45 minutes he was on the field. As well as his scrummaging, he was a real threat with the ball, carrying powerfully, making two clean breaks and beating five defenders. Those numbers would be impressive for a back, let alone a tighthead prop.

It was no coincidence that he was the first man withdrawn by Schmidt once the result had been wrapped up.

He was quickly followed off by Johnny Sexton and Best, the former having contributed two tries before half-time to the Irish cause.

The first came thanks to some good support play off the shoulder of Jordan Larmour, the full-back having used his quick feet to open up the space.

The second was from an Ireland scrum, Sexton spotting the space down the blindside and switching the play to dive over. That was enough for the bonus-point try that Ireland needed to guarantee they could not be overhauled in the race for a last-eight spot.

They had lost Aki between those two tries, but this Ireland team are too well-drilled for the loss of one player to disrupt them. It is not a position they will want to find themselves in come the knockout stages, but Schmidt will have been pleased to see his team come through the challenge.

Ireland also avoided any injuries, while Larmour and CJ Stander capped off impressive displays with second-half tries, as did Andrew Conway off the bench.

Schmidt fully expects to have a full complement to pick from for the quarter-final, other than Aki, a far cry from four years ago when he was down Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien, Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony.

When asked what Ireland need to do differently from their last two World Cup quarter-finals, Best joked that a win would be a good starting point. A fully fit squad will help.

Just as importantly, after the defeat to Japan and a somewhat laboured victory over Russia, this was a much slicker display, even in windy conditions and on a pitch that did not lend itself to flowing rugby.

The lineout and maul looks a real weapon once again, while the team adapted to being a man down by playing a tighter game and enjoyed plenty of success with the pick and go.

Ireland will need to step it up in the quarter-finals back in Tokyo, but they have something to build on.