Ireland returned to winning ways at the Rugby World Cup but were far from impressive in a 35-0 victory over Russia in Kobe on Thursday.
For all Ireland, the victims of a shock 19-12 defeat by hosts Japan last weekend, had made 11 changes, the fact it took them more an hour to secure a bonus point against a gutsy but limited Russia side would have been a cause for concern.
Victory also came at a cost.
Flyhalf Joey Carbery withdrew from his bench role shortly before kick-off with an a longstanding ankle problem, while an injury-hit Ireland saw number eight Jordi Murphy, who only arrived a few days ago after Jack Conan was ruled out, go off before half-time.
The result was rarely in doubt, with Rob Kearney scoring the first of Ireland’s five tries 90 seconds into the match.
Peter O’Mahony and Rhys Ruddock also crossed Russia’s line in the opening period with Jonathan Sexton, captaining Ireland for the first time, after the star fly-half missed the Japan loss with a thigh injury, converting all three tries.
But Ireland’s display was not akin to their 62-12 thrashing of Russia at the 2011 World Cup or indeed reigning champions New Zealand’s 63-0 rout of Canada on Wednesday.
Instead this performance suggested Ireland, who could face either the All Blacks or South Africa in the quarter-finals should they beat Samoa in their concluding Pool A game on October 12, have work to do if they are to capture a maiden world title and become the first side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup after losing a group-stage match.
Being ‘nilled’ was tough on Russia, who again posed problems as they had done in 30-10 and 34-9 defeats by Japan and Samoa respectively.
It looked as if Ireland might be eyeing a rout when Kearney scored scored under the closed roof of the Kobe Misaki Stadium before two minutes were on the clock.
Second row Jean Kleyn’s clever inside pass released Kearney and, with centre Bundee Aki running a decoy line, the veteran fullback carved his way round Russia left wing Denis Simplikevich from 40 metres out.
Sexton, one of the world’s leading goal-kickers when fully fit, made light of a difficult conversion.
But Russia, led by Dublin-educated fullback Vasily Artemyev, harried Ireland with good use of the Garryowen — the name given to high kicks in rugby union in honour of the Irish club that pioneered the tactic.
When Ireland, who started this tournament as the world’s top-ranked side, returned to Russia’s 22, however, they had their second try in the 13th minute with Sexton’s clever grubber kick through the defence allowing onrushing flanker O’Mahony to score by the posts.
To make matters worse for Russia, centre Kirill Golosnitskiy, desperately trying to cover, slammed into a post protector and was carried off on a stretcher.
Russia were forced into a huge defensive effort in near their own line and lost lock Bogdan Fedotko to a yellow card in the 34th minute.
Moments later, Ireland’s pressure told when blindside flanker Ruddock powered over for a try.
Yet Ireland failed to make the most of their man advantage either side of half-time, although Russia fly-half Ramil Gaisin was unable to reward good work by his forwards when he pushed a long-range penalty wide.
Ireland eventually raised their game in the 62nd minute with a rare backline move.
Replacement Jack Carty’s chip ahead was regathered by Keith Earls and he sent in fellow wing Andrew Conway, whose uncle Mark McDermott is a member of Russia’s coaching staff, from near half-way.
And four minutes from time Ringrose went in for a fifth try that flattered Ireland.