Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign got off to a stuttering start in New Plymouth as Declan Kidney’s men beat the USA 22-10. Tommy Bowe scored two tries and Rory Best added another but it was an abject performance from Ireland.
Ireland dominated in the scrum and at the lineout but could not translate their set-piece control into regular points. Passing was poor, ball handling inept and decision making was questionable. Experienced and quality backs like Geordan Murphy and Tommy Bowe surprisingly dropped several high balls. Jonathan Sexton also struggled from place kicks and was replaced by Ronan O’Gara in the 51st minute.
Ireland immediately took control of the scrum in the opening minutes and forces three penalties in the first ten minutes. Sexton went for the corner with one of the penalties, but the out-half hit poor shots for the other two.
Ireland finally took the lead in the 16th minute after Sexton split the posts from a penalty. The rest of the half was not encouraging for Ireland, however, as they failed to add to their lead until just before half-time.
Tommy Bowe scored a try just before the interval to give Ireland a boost. Stephen Ferris passed to Sexton five yards from the USA line. The out-half quickly offloaded to Bowe, who ran over the USA line to scored Ireland’s first try of the World Cup.
The second half was scarcely better for Declan Kidney’s men. Sexton missed two more place kicks from relatively easy positions in the first five minutes and was replaced by Ronan O’Gara. Conor Murray was also replaced by Eoin Reddan at scrum-half.
The USA then got on the scoreboard in the 54th minute with a James Patterson penalty. Ireland responded by upping the tempo and scored two tries in three minutes just before the hour.
In the 56th minute, the Irish pack pushed the USA back towards their try line. Rory Best peeled off the back of the pack and finished in the corner. O’Gara failed to add the conversion from a difficult angle.
Tommy Bowe then scored his second try in the 59th minute. Ireland spread the ball out wide and Tommy Bowe found Brian O’Driscoll. The captain returned the ball to Bowe, who finished well.
Tony Buckley and Andrew Trimble came on for Ireland, but the handling mistakes continued to rack up.
Ireland pushed to try to gain a bonus point in the closing stages, but it was the USA who completed the scoring. Gordan D’Arcy threw an aimless pass around midfield in the final minute. Paul Emerick intercepted and was left to run half the field unchallenged. Malifa added the conversion to leave the final scored 22-10 to Ireland.
Ireland recorded a win but will be worried about their prospects going forward. Australia and Italy will not allow Ireland to exert anywhere near the same amount of control in the scrum, which will further limit Ireland’s scoring opportunities. Ronan O’Gara will likely replace Jonathan Sexton against Australia next Saturday, but it is hard to see Ireland competing with Australia regardless of how many changes they make, especially on this performance.