Ireland will be thankful that Bundee Aki’s red card for a high tackle just 28 minutes in did not have a detrimental impact on his side’s performance because by the time the centre received his marching orders, his team were already in command with three converted tries and a 21-5 lead. Skipper Rory Best laid down the earliest marker as Ireland drove their maul over for the opening try just three minutes in and Joe Schmidt’s side never looked back, even with 14 men.
Mission accomplished but few would have imagined Ireland progressing to the last eight with a defeat to Japan on the balance books. This performance, albeit against a poorly disciplined Samoa, has got Ireland back on track but there will be few who think this will be good enough to undo either New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-finals. Ireland have to take another huge leap in performance levels next weekend if they are to make history and reach the semis for the first time.
There were plenty of encouraging performances for Ireland to take into the knockout stages with Jordan Larmour impressing at full-back and earning the man of the match award to stake a serious claim to the number 15 jersey next week. Johnny Sexton’s two tries and four conversions underlined his importance to this team while CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and Tadhg Beirne all put in big shifts in the back row to nullify the physical Samoan threat.
Nic Berry had his hands full and not just with the card-happy Samoans, who saw a sixth player in this World Cup sent to the bin after six minutes for a high tackle on Jacob Stockdale, who was falling into the contact with hooker Seilala Lam when shoulder met the wing’s face full-on.
There was no such mitigation for Bundee Aki on 28 minutes when the Ireland centre went high on fly-half Ulupano Seuteni, the Australian referee and his team determining the high level of danger when the Connacht man’s shoulder caught the carrier’s jaw and deciding it warranted a red card. Aki becomes the first Irish player sent off in a World Cup and only the fourth in Ireland’s Test history.
Aki’s dismissal aside, Samoa’s tournament ended with further ill-discipline, TJ Ioane following Seilala Lam into the bin in the second half and Steve Jackson’s side conceded a monster tally of penalties.
Ireland 5 Samoa 17
Four years on from seeing his side suffer a string of injuries in the final pool game against France, head coach Joe Schmidt will be relieved to have escaped this physical encounter without any apparent harm done to his players.
Ireland saved themselves the bother of an anxious Sunday having sealed their progress to the quarter-finals in Tokyo next weekend but they must still wait to discover their opponents. That will become clear only after the outcome of Japan-Scotland’s game is decided in Yokohama today. A Japan victory and the host nation will top Pool A, consigning Ireland to second place and a Saturday quarter-final against New Zealand. If Ireland finish on top, they will face South Africa in Tokyo Stadium on Sunday.