The Fiji Times

Seven-try romp puts Irish into last eight

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FUKUOKA - Rejuvenate­d Ireland secured the bonus-point victory that ensured qualificat­ion for the quarter-finals, despite playing the final 52 minutes with only 14 men after centre Bundee Aki became their first player to be sent off in a Rugby World Cup match.

While Ireland could yet face South Africa in the last eight, their more likely opponents are defending champion New Zealand.

“You’ve got to be at your very, very best to have a chance. They’re not back-to-back World Cup winners for no reason,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said. “For us it would be, to a degree, a mountain to climb. But if it is the All Blacks we’ll look to scale those heights.”

Regardless of the opposition, Schmidt is likely to be without Aki, but on the bright side he will otherwise have a fully fit squad to choose from. Four years ago, Ireland won a bruising encounter with France in Cardiff in their final pool game. Decimated by injury they lost badly to Argentina. Now they move on with their momentum restored.

After confidence-sapping performanc­es against Japan and Russia, Ireland needed to put down a marker ahead of the knockouts and it took them only three minutes to show their intent. Captain Rory Best found Iain Henderson with a lineout throw close to the Samoa line and then got himself on the end of a rolling maul the underdogs could not cope with. Johnny Sexton kicked the extras from the touchline and his team had the emphatic start they needed.

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