Ireland will meet Italy in a winner-takes-all Rugby World Cup clash in Dunedin on Sunday after Declan Kidney’s team hammered Russia and the Italians saw off the USA in New Zealand.
Kidney’s side maintained their 100% run and the push for the quarterfinals with a nine try demolition of Russia in a 62-12 win in Rotorua on Sunday.
Man of the Match Ronan O’Gara helped himself to 15 points on his first start of the tournament as the Irish remained on top of the Pool C table as three tries in the final minutes of the first half secured the bonus point early on.
Keith Earls scored two tries, one in each half, for an Ireland team that led 36-0 at the interval. Fergus McFadden, Sean O’Brien, Isaac Boss, Andrew Trimble, Rob Kearney, Shane Jennings and Tony Buckley also scored tries for the winners.
O’Gara hit one penalty and six conversions with replacement Jonathon Sexton adding the final conversion.
Afterwards, O’Gara urged Ireland to carry the momentum from their opening three games into Sunday’s clash with the Italians when a win will see them into last eight but a defeat will probably send them home.
“We’re in good shape but it counts for nothing unless we do the business in the final round,” said O’Gara. “There’s always some catch with this team. It’s a big weekend but it’s a weekend to look forward to.
“Now that we have this momentum it’s important that we don’t let go of it. Once you have momentum in sport, you must make the most of it.
“Mentally the squad is in a good place and that’s probably more important than to be in a good place physically.”
O’Gara staked his claim to start the Italian match with a faultless display against the Russians and is keen to start on Sunday.
He added, “I’ve always felt like I have an important role to play for this team, whether it’s as a starter or coming on.
“There’s a role for me and a really important one. Sometimes you can’t have much impact in half an hour, so it was great to get 67 minutes against Russia.
“I felt refreshed and comfortable and am enjoying it at the moment. I felt sharp out there. When we kept things simple we were good, when we overcomplicated things we weren’t so good so there’s a lesson there.
“It was a great team selection. There was good youth and good experience. The management got it right. There was a real excitement all week, we trained very well. There’s great hunger in the squad and that’s important.
“We started by taking the wind which was a big call because usually you always play into it. We tried to kill off the Russian threat and within 15 minutes we were 17-0 up, so that was a decision that went for us.”
Kidney was more than happy with how his team played even if they conceded two tries on the day.
“We’d be pleased. We probably went a bit asleep in the middle of both halves but we’re delighted with the win and to score that number of tries,” said Kidney.
“Every side you have to prepare for in a World Cup because you know teams will come at you fully. We had to go strong at the start of the first half -- and we did that -- and then we had a golden patch before halftime.
“Three tries in five or six minutes was good for us but we had to work for it and little bits we made hard for ourselves and the Russians scored two good tries against us.”
Italy set-up a mouth watering clash with Ireland in Dunedin on Sunday when they beat the USA 27-10 on Tuesday morning to trail Kidney’s team by three points in the table. Even if Ireland claim a losing bonus point on Sunday, Italy would still progress to the quarter-finals on the head-to-head rule.
“We know perfectly well we have a better front row than Ireland and we’re hoping to prove that on Sunday,” said Italian coach Nick Mallett. “If our front row put us on the front foot, we can win the game.”
Ireland's Rob Kearney, Keith Earls and Sean O’Brien all sat out training in Dunedin on Tuesday as a precaution but are expected to be fit for the game.