Ireland captain and flyhalf Johnny Sexton celebrated becoming his country’s oldest player by notching 24 points in a rousing 82-8 win over Romania in his side’s opening Rugby World Cup Pool B match in blazing sunshine on Saturday.
Italy began their campaign with a seven-try, bonus-point win over Namibia in Saint-Etienne.
The Irish recovered from the shock concession of an early try to roar back, with Sexton scoring two tries and kicking seven conversions to leave him needing 10 points to overtake Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s top scorer.
“Age is just a number, I’m just delighted to be back,” the smiling 38-year-old said in a post-match TV interview.
Standing with his hands on his hips, Sexton appeared to show no signs of a hand injury sustained when touching down for his first try, and he came out for the second half to rack up more points in his quest to overtake O’Gara.
“We’re delighted obviously to get a result and to get a points difference like that. We knew it was gonna be a tough game at the start, especially with Romania being very physical and they certainly didn’t let us down in that regard,” Sexton said.
Sexton was making his first appearance since suffering a groin injury in Ireland’s Six Nations clash with England in March, and he was banned for three games after an angry confrontation with officials after the European Champions Cup final in May.
“Until you’re in the heat of battle, you can train all you want but until you’re in a proper match it doesn’t test your properly,” Sexton said.
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“We know that there’s a much tougher task coming on Saturday against Tonga, and then beyond that as well with the other two teams, Scotland and South Africa,” he added.
The 82 was Ireland’s highest World Cup score, and second highest all time. Ireland also extended its record-long winning streak to 14 tests.
Ireland: (33) 82
Tries: Gibson-Park, Keenan, Beirne 2, Aki 2, Sexton 2, Herring, O’Mahony 2, McCarthy Cons: Sexton 7, Crowley 4
Romania: (8) 8
Tries: Rupanu Pen: Rupanu
Italy: (17) 52
Tries: Cannone, Garbisi, Lamb, Capuozzo, Faiva, Zuliani, Odogwu Cons: Allan 7 Pen: Allan
Namibia: (8) 8
Try: Mouton Pen: Swanepoel