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.
RUGBY: Full-back Isa Nacewa kicked five penalties as Leinster won 15-10 away to the Scarlets in the Celtic League last weekend. Connacht were 17-13 winners at the home to the dragons, and Munster won 18-13 in Cardiff but Ulster were beaten 32-14 away to the Ospreys . . .
GOLF: Over 80,000 fans flocked to Killeen Castle in County Meath over the weekend as Europe’s top female golfers shocked America in the Solheim Cup, winning for the first time in four attempts on a dramatic Sunday finale in Dunsany . . .
ATHLETICS: Irish walkers Robert Heffernan and Brendan Boyce achieved the Olympic qualification standard in the 50km walk in Nuamburg, Germany, on Sunday . . .
RUGBY: The IRFU have announced a reduction in ticket prices for next season’s Six Nations matches.
All-Ireland winning captain Brian Dooher has brought the curtain down on his Tyrone career at the age of 36 after a struggle with injury in recent years.
Dooher won three All-Irelands in all with the Red Hand side, two as captain in 2005 and 2008.
Mickey Harte, the man who appointed Dooher captain of Tyrone, paid tribute to the player.
“He was a one-off player that comes along every so often,” Harte said.
“He was unequalled, unrivalled. He was a great leader. He had so many skills. He was fantastic at communicating with players.
“Brian was great liaising with the county board. He was held in such high esteem that he commanded respect from everybody.
“He was a man who grew in stature as he matured. When he was being told that he could no longer perform at the required level, he would bounce back with an incredible performance.”
Teammate Sean Cavanagh said, “Every year he seemed to get better and fitter. Even though his body might be trying to give in, somehow he was able to push on through it. His commitment is unrivalled and he leaves a legacy that hopefully will continue to inspire other Tyrone players.”
Waterford star Eoin Murphy, who suffered a fractured skull in a club game last April, is retiring from inter-county hurling after an 11 year career.
“I’m 100% happy to hang up my boots at inter-county level,” Murphy told the Irish Examiner. “I’m looking forward to spending a few years with the club.
“It was in the back of my mind to give it one more year with Waterford and I didn’t go back until February, but I felt it could be a good year for us. Even after the injury I wanted to stay involved.
“I knew I probably wouldn’t be playing but I got back training with the county at least.”
Fitz for Clare
All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald will be confirmed as the new manager of the Clare senior hurling team later this week. Just a month after he quit the Waterford job, Fitzy is back in charge of his native county after he was the only nominee put forward to Tuesday night’s County Board meeting.
Incredibly, the 40-year-old Fitzgerald could play for his club Sixmilebridge in their forthcoming county semifinal against Cratloe as regular keeper Derek Fahy is out injured.
VETERAN coach Mickey Whelan has quit, but manager Pat Gilroy looks certain to stay on for at least another year with the Dublin team that won the All-Ireland football final.
Star Dublin forward Bernard Brogan, meanwhile, has announced that he plans to spend some time in Australia before the start of the 2012 National Football Leagues . . .
SHANNONSIDE hurling legend Ciaran Carey is the new favorite to replace Donal O’Grady as manager of the Limerick senior hurlers, with former Cork boss John Allen also in for the job. Carey worked as a selector under O’Grady and has previously managed the Limerick under-21 team . . .
CORK made it six wins in seven seasons as they captured the All-Ireland Ladies SFC crown with a 2-7 to 0-11 win over Monaghan at Croke Park on Sunday. Cavan came from three points down to draw with Westmeath, 0-11 to 2-5, in the intermediate final . . .
NEW Cork hurling boss Jimmy Barry-Murphy has hinted that he will consider veterans Donal Og Cusack, John Gardiner, the O’Connor twins, Niall McCarthy and Tom Kenny for his 2012 championship squad . . .
MAYO-born Brisbane Lions Aussie Rules star Pearce Hanley wants to play for the Irish team in the forthcoming Compromise Rules series in Australia . . .
DUBLIN’S All-Ireland winning captain Bryan Cullen is to take up a new job as a strength and conditioning coach with the Leinster rugby academy . . .
WEXFORD football manager Jason Ryan is in line for a shock return to his native Waterford -- as manager of the county senior hurling team . . .
AUSSIE Rules star Tommy Walsh has denied rumors that he will quit his St. Kildea club to return to the Kerry team next season . . .
CORK dual star Teddy McCarthy has been offered the job as manager of the Laois senior hurling team . . .
FORMER Dublin midfielder could replace Tom Cribbin as manager of the Offaly footballers.