Ireland survived the loss of captain Paul O’Connell and flyhalf Johnny Sexton to run out 24-9 winners over France and set up a Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Argentina after a brutal Pool D decider yesterday.
Second-half tries from fullback Rob Kearney and scrumhalf Conor Murray gave the Six Nations champions a victory they fully deserved and sent the French into a quarter-final against reigning champions New Zealand back in Cardiff next weekend.
The Irish will also return to the Welsh capital to face the Pumas next Sunday but could be without O’Connell and Sexton, who both left the pitch through injury before half-time, as well as flanker Peter O’Mahony, who was injured after the break.
France, with skipper Thierry Dusautoir and number eight Louis Picamoles leading from the front, tackled like demons but looked almost devoid of any creativity in the backs and never looked like crossing the Irish line.
The roof of the Millennium Stadium was closed but Ireland’s fans in the crowd of 72,163 nearly took it off with a passionate rendition of “Ireland’s Call” and the Irish players responded by tearing into their opponents.
Earlier, nine Argentina players scored tries as the Pumas geared up for the quarter-finals with a 64-19 demolition of Namibia in their final Pool C game.
Juan Martin Hernandez, one of the standouts of the side that reached the 2007 World Cup semi-finals and yesterday handed a rare outing in the number 10 shirt, set the ball rolling with the opening score.
Matias Moroni, with his first international try, Horacio Agulla, Facundo Isa and Lucas Noguera crossed before the break, with Matias Alemanno, Leonardo Senatore, Julian Montoya and Tomas Cubelli joining the fun in the second half.
Namibia’s scores came from Johan Tromp, JC Greyling and Eugene Jantjies.
In Exeter, Italy produced their most polished performance of the Rugby World Cup by beating Romania 32-22 to secure third place in Pool D.
Italy’s second win of the tournament condemned Romania to fourth place in the group, meaning the Oaks will have to qualify for the next World Cup in 2019.
Leonardo Sarto, Edoardo Gori and Tommaso Allan crossed for first-half tries and Alessandro Zanni added a fourth for Italy, who are the only top-tier nation never to have qualified for the knockout stage.
Romania, who produced the biggest comeback in World Cups when they recovered a 15-point deficit to beat Canada, produced a spirited rally from 29-3 down.
Adrian Apostol went over for two tries and Valentin Poparlan scored in the last 14 minutes.
Other result: US vs Japan 18-28.
Saturday: South Africa vs Wales; New Zealand vs France.
Sunday: Ireland vs Argentina; Australia vs Scotland.