Rugby union: Sexton guides Ireland to Canada trouncing

CARDIFF, Wales (AFP) - Jonny Sexton scored a try, three conversions and a penalty, as Six Nations champions Ireland routed Canada 50-7 to open their Rugby World Cup campaign.

In severe warning to Pool D rivals France and Italy, Ireland were superior to Canada in every facet of the game after a tight opening quarter of an hour.

They notched up four first-half tries - and a bonus point in the pool standings - through Sean O'Brien, Iain Henderson, Sexton and David Kearney, three converted by Sexton.

Three more tries through Sean Cronin, David Kearney and Jared Payne to complete the demolition in the second half.

"We handled the ball really well and played some really good rugby," said captain Paul O'Connell playing down Ireland's superiority.

He said the win had helped Ireland get over their World Cup "nerves".

The first try came when Canada captain Jamie Cudmore had been yellow carded for a ruck infringement, and left the Canucks with too big a mountain to climb at 29-0 down at half-time at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

The bonus point could be key in a pool whose winners will likely avoid champions New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Sexton was key to everything Ireland did, playing deep in the pocket and opting to use a back-row forward as a midfield loop-around target to unleash the dangerous-looking Irish backs in a series of well-oiled moves.

While complacency was not quite put to one side in the second-half, O'Connell was yellow carded and Canada knuckled down in defence before Sean Cronin crossed for Ireland's fifth, DTH van der Merwe scored a consolation try before Rob Kearney and Jared Payne wrapped things up.

Canada had the first chance to get the scoreboard ticking after No. 8 Jamie Heaslip failed to roll away from a ruck in the eighth minute but Gordon McRorie's long-range effort fell short and wide.

When the North Americans strayed offside as their defence desperately rallied to hold firm, Sexton was left with a straightforward pot at the posts to hand Ireland the early advantage.

Man-of-the-match Sexton spurned a second penalty minutes later to play the ball quickly, with Canada rattled. From the ensuing action, Cudmore was sin binned for playing the ball on the ground, Ireland kicked for corner touch and a well-worked driving line-out saw Sean O'Brien cross for a try, Sexton kicking the extras.

With Cudmore still off the pitch, Ireland turned the screw at the scrum, Heaslip broke and Henderson crashed over for a close-range try also converted by Sexton.

The fly-half showed a clean pair of heels after a neat inside O'Brien pass to outpace the cover for a third try, unable to convert from the touchline.

Coach Joe Schmidt had warned that Ireland needed to convert any creative chances they had, and winger Dave Kearney duly made sure of a crucial bonus point when he finished off another well-worked backs move, Sexton nailing his third conversion.

Canada thought they might have had a try of their own when van der Merwe crossed in the corner on the stroke of half-time, but Nathan Hirayama's tap-on was ruled to have gone forward.

O'Connell received a yellow card for a blatant offside two minutes into the second period, but the well-organised Irish defence had no problems repelling wave after wave of Canadian attack.

Ian Madigan came on for Sexton on 55 minutes, a harried Canada pinned back deep in their own half but withstanding the Irish pressure.

The breakthrough finally came when replacement hooker Cronin crashed over after another effective driving line-out, Madigan kicking the conversion.

Almost immediately, Canada hit back with an intercept consolation try through van der Merwe, Hirayama knocking over the extras.

Ireland had the last word when first Rob Kearney sprinted in after a turnover saw Keith Earls scamper up the left wing and feed inside, and then Payne was on hand after Madigan split the tiring defence.