By Simon Lewis, Cardiff
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt toasted fly-half Johnny Sexton after his playmaker helped get his team's World Cup Pool D campaign off to a flying start with a seven-try rout of Canada.
Sexton scored a first-half try, added a penalty and three conversions before being withdrawn after just 55 minutes with the bonus-point victory secured but it was his game management and kicking out of hand which was equally impressive as Ireland hit the ground running at the start of a four-game qualifying schedule.
“Johnny played really well today,” Schmidt said. “He passed 500 points in international rugby, which is a milestone and hugely deserved for the effort and work he puts in.
“He will reflect on the game and the first wide pass he made that looped into touch. He will probably chastise himself for that, but there were probably 30 other positive involvements for him. But that's the way he is with himself and the way he leads the team as well.”
Sexton had kicked Ireland into a 3-0 lead with a 13th minute penalty in front of 68,523 people at the Millennium Stadium, the men in green roared on by the vast majority of the crowd, their noise amplified even further with the stadium roof closed.
Yet when Canada captain Jamie Cudmore was yellow-carded on 18 minutes for a ruck misdemeanour, Ireland really capitalised, scoring 19 points with three tries, two of them converted during his 10-minute absence.
Sean O'Brien, Iain Henderson and then Sexton put the game beyond Canada's reach, Dave Kearney grabbing the fourth, bonus-point try five minutes before the break as Ireland took a 29-0 lead into half-time.
They lost their way a little after the break, captain O'Connell heading to the sin bin for an offside offence and even at full strength, Canada got on the scoreboard with a breakway try from speedy Scarlets wing DTH van der Merwe.
Schmidt's side finished with a flourish, though, further tries, all converted by Ian Madigan, coming from fellow sub Sean Cronin, Rob Kearney and Jared Payne to round off a satisfying afternoon's work.
“It was a mix of what we had been working on and also a bit tailored to what we thought we had to do," Schmidt said.
“If you try and out-muscle Canada it's hard, because they don't lack any prowess there. We wanted to get them chasing a bit too. But they were hard to break down. The next game against Romania we will aim to do something that suits (us against) their game.”
Ireland meet the Romanians in eight days at Wembley Stadium but will first head to the English Midlands to train at St George's Park, the English football team's training base in Burton On Trent.
IRELAND: R Kearney; D Kearney, J Payne, L Fitzgerald (S Zebo, 74), K Earls; J Sexton (I Madigan, 55), C Murray (E Reddan, 65); J McGrath (C Healy, 60), R Best (S Cronin, 60), M Ross (N White, 60); I Henderson, P O’Connell – captain (D Ryan, 74); P O’Mahony, S O’Brien (C Henry, 63), J Heaslip.
Yellow card: O'Connell 42-52 mins
CANADA: M Evans (L Underwood, h-t; R Thorpe, 75); J Hassler (C Trainor, h-t), C Hearn, N Blevins, DTH van der Merwe; N Hirayama, G McRorie (P Mack, 48); H Buydens (D Sears-Duru, 47), R Barkwill (B Piffero, 63), D Wooldridge (A Tiedemann, 65); B Beukeboom, J Cudmore – captain; K Gilmour (J Sinclair, 47), J Moonlight, A Carpenter.