France can improve, Ireland show their class

France's prop Rabah Slimani (right) rides a tackle from Italy's back row Samuela Vunisa (second right) to score France's first try during the Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between France and Italy.
France's prop Rabah Slimani (right) rides a tackle from Italy's back row Samuela Vunisa (second right) to score France's first try during the Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between France and Italy. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • France made their best start to a Rugby World Cup since 2003 with their 32-10 win over Italy in Pool D on Saturday, having lost to Argentina at home in 2007 and struggled past Japan four years later.

Coach Philippe Saint-Andre said he was satisfied with the job done at Twickenham even if the three-time losing finalists needed to improve before their matches against Romania, then Canada and a potential pool decider against Ireland in Cardiff on Oct 11.

"We were solid, powerful, we controlled the match, but we had difficulty getting quick balls and we tried some impossible passes," he said. "It was a rugged match, we were solid in defence even if we know we can do a lot better."

Despite the one-sided scoreline, his men managed just two tries, from prop Rabah Slimani and replacement front row Nicolas Mas. That means they missed out on a crucial bonus point.

There were no such problems for Ireland in Wales.

Fly-half Jonny Sexton gave a masterclass in game management, as they asserted their title credentials with a thumping 50-7 bonus-point victory over Canada.

The Six Nations champions dominated set pieces, looked slick and creative in the backline, and ran in seven tries under the closed roof at the Millennium Stadium.

Sexton contributed nine points from the kicking tee in his 55 minutes on the pitch and scored the pick of Ireland's tries, racing 40 metres to touch down in the 28th minute after being set free by a neat inside pass from Sean O'Brien.

That Ireland's defence, which had conceded nine tries in their four warm-up matches, held firm under huge try-line pressure from the Canadians also augured well for tougher battles ahead. But D.T.H. van der Merwe did finally get the try Canada's efforts deserved on the breakaway in the 68th minute, after snaffling up Irish centre Jared Payne's chip kick.

For disappointed Canada coach Kieran Crowley, Saturday's defeat was further evidence that the Irish have a genuine shot at winning a first World Cup.

"Ireland weren't No. 2 in the world a couple of weeks back for nothing and they got on their horse and scored a few tries," he said. "They have a pretty rounded game and when you get to the quarters, semis, and then final, it's just one-off games."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'France can improve, Ireland show their class'. Print Edition | Subscribe