Ireland subdued Russia 35-0 for a bonus-point win in Kobe but were left to sweat on new World Cup injury problems for Johnny Sexton, Jordi Murphy and Joey Carbery.
Sexton captained Ireland for the first time in Thursday’s Pool A clash but was removed at half-time and was icing his thigh on the bench after the break.
The versatile Carbery was due to cover scrum-half from the bench but never even made it that far, having picked up a possible recurrence of the ankle injury that almost kept him out of the tournament.
Flanker Murphy also suffered a suspected rib problem on a night that could end up taking a heavy toll on Ireland’s entire World Cup bid, even if the victory was much welcomed after their shock defeat to Japan.
Rob Kearney, Peter O’Mahony, Rhys Ruddock, Andrew Conway and Garry Ringrose scored tries for Joe Schmidt’s men to secure a victory that puts them back on course for the quarter-finals.
Defeat Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday, October 12 and Ireland will make the last eight – but their performance levels will have to ramp up considerably to see off either South Africa or New Zealand.
British and Irish Lions star Sexton missed Ireland’s 19-12 loss to hosts Japan with a thigh complaint, but had declared himself 100 per cent fit for Thursday’s encounter.
Carbery, meanwhile, damaged ankle ligaments in the 29-10 warm-up victory over Italy in Dublin on August 10, and had to fight tooth and nail to make the World Cup in the first place.
The 23-year-old came off the bench against Japan but looked tentative, and now Ireland will hope his new ankle issue is not lasting.
The luckless Murphy lasted just 26 minutes of his first World Cup outing, only days after replacing the injured Jack Conan in the Ireland ranks.
Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell would likely be the next back-row cab off the rank if Murphy’s injury were to prove serious enough to cut short his World Cup exploits.
Ireland could, of course, turn to lock Devin Toner and utilise Tadhg Beirne as an outright flanker.
Toner was Ireland’s shock World Cup squad omission, with boss Schmidt selecting Munster’s Jean Kleyn instead.
But the hugely-dependable Leinster star would offer Ireland great lineout stability should he be called upon.
Tournament regulations dictate that any stadium roof must be closed, but this has backfired amid the extreme humidity at the Kobe Misaki.
In all the matches played here so far, the ball remains the slickest thing on display, with condensation hanging in the air and sweat pouring off the players.
The unavoidable handling errors have ruined the spectacles, with even the purists lamenting a clutch of contests spoiled by the unnaturally intensified elements.
Ireland were the latest team to suffer, but even accounting for the atmosphere this win still contained too many mistakes.
Kearney raced in for Ireland’s quickest-ever World Cup try, haring home after just 90 seconds.
Such a facile score harboured clear portents of a whitewash, but Ireland’s biggest opponent proved their error count.
In extreme humidity the slippery ball proved enough of a challenge, but Schmidt’s men still struggled for cohesion in other areas too.
"We're delighted to get a good win and get back on the horse after last week..."@IrishRugby captain Johnny Sexton speaks after his side got their second win at #RWC2019 against Russia #IREvRUS pic.twitter.com/RH8bG7qYAb— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 3, 2019
Kearney found himself in no man’s land as he let a high ball bounce, a collector’s item given his long-running assurance at the back for Ireland.
Russia were unable to capitalise though, and Sexton’s cute grubber caught the Bears flat footed to send O’Mahony in for try number two.
And when Russia lock Bogdan Fedotko was sin-binned Ireland quickly capitalised on the numerical advantage for flanker Ruddock to bash over the line. Sexton’s third conversion handed Ireland a 21-0 lead at half-time.
Boss Schmidt withdrew Sexton at the break, opting to bubble wrap his premier playmaker, especially in light of that injury issue for Carbery.
Russia forward Andrei Ostrikov was yellow carded for shoulder charging a ruck just moments after joining the fray off the bench in the second half.
Ireland punted the penalty to the corner and set about building into phase play from a sharp lineout – only to knock on cheaply again in midfield.
Finally Conway hared home for the bonus-point try, and then Ringrose glossed the scoreboard. But even though this was job done, Ireland will be left to fret about the cost.
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England will enter their crucial World Cup clash with Argentina boosted by the return of Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell from the bench.
Vunipola and Nowell missed the Pool C victories over Tonga and USA because of respective hamstring and ankle injuries but have been passed fit for the first major test of the group phase.
The starting XV shows only one change to the side that secured a bonus point in the Sapporo opener with George Kruis replacing Courtney Lawes in the second row.
Kruis is England’s best line-out technician and he partners Saracens team-mate Maro Itoje at lock with Lawes dropping to the bench to supply engine room cover.
Vunipola has played just 17 minutes of rugby since May 11 after his comeback against Ireland during the warm-up Tests was aborted when he damaged the scar tissue on his hamstring.
Joe Marler continues at prop with Vunipola, the sport’s foremost loosehead, set to make his return as a second-half replacement at Tokyo Stadium.
Nowell has not played since his blockbusting performance for Exeter in last season’s Gallagher Premiership final but is present on the bench where he will be unleashed as a hard-running impact substitute.
After the pool’s two weakest teams were swatted aside, Eddie Jones has picked his strongest available side with playmakers George Ford and Owen Farrell fielded in tandem inside Manu Tuilagi.
Tuilagi was a marauding presence against Tonga, scoring two tries in a player of the match performance, but was rested for the USA clash.
Jones has opted for the openside flanker combination of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, the duo he dubbed ‘Kamikaze Kids’, in the back row with Lewis Ludlam deputising on the bench.
England are guaranteed passage into the quarter-final if they topple Argentina seven days before they lock horns with Six Nations rivals France.
“Argentina is a completely different team from others we have played so far in the pool stages and are always about the physical contest,” Jones said.
“This week it’s about getting our game right, our set piece in a good place and making sure defensively we are organised and ready to find ways to score points against them.”
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England will be bidding to continue their strong form when they take on Argentina in their third pool match of the Rugby World Cup.
Elsewhere, Ireland are aiming to bounce back against Russia in Kobe, following their 19-12 defeat to hosts Japan.
Here’s a look at the fixtures taking place over the weekend:
GEORGIA V FIJI (Thursday, 09:15)
Towering flanker Peceli Yato will return from a head injury for Fiji’s vital Pool D game against Georgia.
Yato suffered a concussion in Fiji’s opening match after a high tackle by Australia’s Reece Hodge – who later became the first player to receive a suspension at the competition.
Fiji lost 39-21 to the Wallabies before suffering an embarrassing upset against minnows Uruguay.
Coach John McKee made 11 changes to the team that slumped to Uruguay as Fiji seek to climb off the bottom of the pool with victory in Osaka.
Merab Sharikadze will become Georgia’s third captain of the tournament after coach Milton Haig changed 11 of the players who started in the 33-7 win over Uruguay.
Prediction: Fiji by 10 points
IRELAND V RUSSIA (Thursday, 14:15)
Fly-half Johnny Sexton will captain Ireland against Russia after recovering from a thigh injury.
The 34-year-old missed the Men in Green’s 19-12 defeat to Japan on Saturday, which has thrown Pool A wide open, with an injury sustained in the opening round bonus-point victory over Scotland.
Sexton was one of 11 changes made by Joe Schmidt, in what is the Kiwi’s final tournament before he signs off after six years as Ireland head coach.
Ulster man Jordi Murphy is handed a start at number eight having replaced the injured Jack Conan in the 31-man squad.
For Russia, Vasily Artemyev skippers the side from full-back and will earn his 89th cap against Ireland – a country where he spent three years in boarding school at Blackrock College in Dublin.
Prediction: Ireland by 55 points
SOUTH AFRICA V ITALY (Friday, 13:45)
Springboks props Tendai Mtawarira and Bongi Mbonambi, as well as lock Lood de Jager, have been promoted to the Springboks’ starting line-up for Friday’s clash with Italy in Shizuoka.
The inclusion of the three tight forwards are the only changes to the team that lost 23-13 to New Zealand in their opening Pool B clash on September 21.
Elsewhere, Italy’s inspirational number eight Sergio Parisse will become rugby union’s second most capped player when he skippers the Azzurri against the Boks.
Parisse will win his 142nd cap, overtaking Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll, with the All Blacks’ Richie McCaw atop the overall list with 149 Test appearances.
Italy coach Conor O’Shea retained 12 of the team that beat Canada 48-7, handing starting berths to Tito Tebaldi, Luca Morisi and star man Parisse.
Prediction: South Africa by 30 points
AUSTRALIA V URUGUAY (Saturday 09:15)
Teenage sensation Jordan Petaia will become Australia’s youngest Rugby World Cup player after the winger was named to start against Uruguay.
The 19-year-old got the nod on the left-wing, after a serious hamstring injury during the Super Rugby season delayed his international debut.
The Wallabies are coming off a 29-25 defeat against Wales which leaves them odds-on to finish runners-up to the Dragons in Pool D, and potentially having to face England in a World Cup quarter-final.
Captain Michael Hooper is one of only two players retained up front along with prop Allan Alaalatoa as head coach Michael Cheika made 12 rotations to his starting XV.
Matt To’omua, who starred at fly-half against Wales, will earn his 50th cap as he shifts to inside centre in partnership with Tevita Kuridrani.
Nic White and Christian Lealiifano were preferred as Australia’s half-back combination.
Prediction: Australia by 50 points
ENGLAND V ARGENTINA (Saturday, 12pm)
The game of the weekend.
England are in pole position to top the pool, having opened with comprehensive victories over Tonga (35-3) and the United States (45-7).
Argentina though are likely to present their toughest challenge so far, despite losing to France in round one.
Mario Ledesma’s side still have an outside chance of making the quarter-finals if they can beat the Red Rose in Tokyo.
Both sides are expected to be at full strength.
England could even fast-track influential prop Mako Vunipola’s return to the starting line-up, despite him only playing 17 minutes of rugby since undergoing hamstring surgery back in May.
Prediction: England by 15 points
JAPAN V SAMOA (Saturday, 14:30)
After their sizzling victory over Ireland, hosts Japan are hoping to take the next step towards their first quarter-finals appearance with victory over Samoa.
Japan beat Ireland 19-12 in a match head coach Jamie Joseph said his team had been preparing for, for three years.
While the Brave Blossoms may not have been eyeing up their Samoa game for as long, that doesn’t mean they will come underprepared.
The Samoan pack is one of the heaviest, and Japan know that fronting up in the scrum will be key to giving their elusive backs the chance to cause problems.
With Pool A so finely poised – Japan on nine points, three ahead of Ireland and four ahead of Scotland – bonus points could be key.
Prediction: Japan by 17 points