Ireland got the bonus-point victory expected of them as they took a welcome step towards the World Cup quarter-finals on Thursday but this was not the bounce-back performance required following last Saturday’s defeat to Japan.
To no-one’s surprise at Kobe Misaki Stadium, Ireland were too good for their Pool A opponents, still looking for a first victory in their second visit to the tournament following a 2011 debut in New Zealand.
Ireland scored nine tries in their first World Cup meeting eight years ago, a 62-12 victory in Rotorua but while this time they scored five and were never under serious pressure this was nothing like as fluid a performance as was required to restore momentum heading towards the final pool game with Samoa in nine days and into the knockout stages.
Aside from the unforced errors with a slippery ball and playing surface under the closed roof in Kobe, further concern will arise after losing Joey Carbery from the replacements before kick-off after “irritation” to ankle injury and No.8 Jordi Murphy in the first half on his tournament debut, less than a week after flying in to replace foot-fracture victim Jack Conan. Fly-half and captain Johnny Sexton was removed at half-time having kicked all three of his conversions.
The luckless Murphy lasted just 26 minutes of his first World Cup outing, only days after replacing the injured Jack Conan in the Ireland ranks.
Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell would likely be the next back-row cab off the rank if Murphy’s injury were to prove serious enough to cut short his World Cup exploits.
Ireland could, of course, turn to lock Devin Toner and utilise Tadhg Beirne as an outright flanker.
Toner was Ireland’s shock World Cup squad omission, with boss Schmidt selecting Munster’s Jean Kleyn instead.
But the hugely-dependable Leinster star would offer Ireland great lineout stability should he be called upon.
Tournament regulations dictate that any stadium roof must be closed, but this has backfired amid the extreme humidity at the Kobe Misaki.
In all the matches played here so far, the ball remains the slickest thing on display, with condensation hanging in the air and sweat pouring off the players.
The unavoidable handling errors have ruined the spectacles, with even the purists lamenting a clutch of contests spoiled by the unnaturally intensified elements.
Ireland were the latest team to suffer, but even accounting for the atmosphere this win still contained too many mistakes.
Kearney raced in for Ireland’s quickest-ever World Cup try, haring home after just 90 seconds.
Such a facile score harboured clear portents of a whitewash, but Ireland’s biggest opponent proved their error count.
In extreme humidity the slippery ball proved enough of a challenge, but Schmidt’s men still struggled for cohesion in other areas too.
Kearney found himself in no man’s land as he let a high ball bounce, a collector’s item given his long-running assurance at the back for Ireland.
Russia were unable to capitalise though, and Sexton’s cute grubber caught the Bears flat footed to send O’Mahony in for try number two.
And when Russia lock Bogdan Fedotko was sin-binned Ireland quickly capitalised on the numerical advantage for flanker Ruddock to bash over the line. Sexton’s third conversion handed Ireland a 21-0 lead at half-time.
Boss Schmidt withdrew Sexton at the break, opting to bubble wrap his premier playmaker, especially in light of that injury issue for Carbery.
Russia forward Andrei Ostrikov was yellow carded for shoulder charging a ruck just moments after joining the fray off the bench in the second half.
Ireland punted the penalty to the corner and set about building into phase play from a sharp lineout – only to knock on cheaply again in midfield.
Finally Conway hared home for the bonus-point try, and then Ringrose glossed the scoreboard. But even though this was job done, Ireland will be left to fret about the cost.
Ireland still need maximum match points against the Samoans next week to reach the last eight and if they repeat this performance that should come readily enough. Yet the aftershocks of that 19-12 loss to the Japanese in Shizuoka last weekend look set to rumble on and questions remain as to whether Joe Schmidt’s team will be able to raise their game to a level good enough to compete with either New Zealand or South Africa in a quarter-final in a little over two weeks.
IRELAND: R Kearney (J Larmour, 49); A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, K Earls; J Sexton - captain (J Carty, h-t), L McGrath; D Kilcoyne (A Porter, 57), N Scannell (S Cronin, 57), J Ryan (T Furlong, 57); T Beirne, J Kleyn (I Henderson, 60); R Ruddock, P O’Mahony, J Murphy (CJ Stander, 27).
Replacement not used: C Murray.
RUSSIA: V Artemyev - captain; G Davydov, I Galinovskiy, K Golosnitskiy (V Ostroushko, 14), D Simplikevich (S Ianiushkin, 70); R Gaisin, D Perov; A Polivalov (V Morozov, 40), E Matveev (S Selskii, h-t), K Gotovtsev (V Podrezov, 67); A Garbuzov (A Ostrikov, 49), B Fedotko (E Elgin, 61); A Sychev (R Khodin, 69),T Gadzhiev, V Gresev.
Yellow cards: B Fedotko 34-44, A Ostrikov 50-60
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)