BORDEAUX – Age is just a number to 38-year-old Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who scored 24 points on his return after a near six-month injury absence as his team thrashed Romania 82-8 in the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.
The Irish got their Pool B campaign started in style in Bordeaux, running in 12 tries for a bonus-point win despite the sweltering heat as the returning Sexton pulled the strings and centre Bundee Aki ran riot.
The skipper’s tally – which included two tries – took him to 102 points and surpassed his predecessor Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s record World Cup scorer.
“Delighted, obviously, with the result... to get a points victory,” said Sexton.
“I’m delighted to get the minutes under my belt. There is a lot of stuff individually that I need to get right. Until you’re in the heat of the battle, you can train all you want but until you’re in a proper match it doesn’t test you properly.
“There is a tougher test coming against Tonga, then against South Africa.
“Age is just a number. I’m delighted to be back.”
It was not just an impressive opening win as the huge scoreline also made it a record victory for Ireland in World Cups, eclipsing the 64-7 humbling of Namibia in 2003.
But Romania briefly led against the No. 1-ranked team in the world, after scrum-half Gabriel Rupanu ran clean through to score in the second minute.
That, however, was as good as it got, as Ireland took a stranglehold on the game and racked up tries for Jamison Gibson-Park, Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Beirne (two), Bundee Aki (two), Sexton (two), Rob Herring, Peter O’Mahony (two), and Joe McCarthy.
By the time Sexton walked off to a standing ovation midway through the second half, the game was long over as a contest, and the eventual margin of victory exceeded the 60-0 previous record from when the sides played in 1986.
“Putting 80 points on the board, we’ve got to be happy with that,” said Ireland coach Andy Farrell.
“Also I suppose the most important thing for us is that he (Sexton) got through 60-odd minutes and played pretty well. Healthy, ready to go again next week.”
In Pool A, Italy cruised to a seven-try 52-8 victory over African minnows Namibia at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne which also earned them an extra point to move ahead of hosts France.
Les Bleus had beaten the All Blacks 27-13 in the tournament opener on Friday.
Star wing Ange Capuozzo was among the try scorers for Italy, with Lorenzo Cannone, Paolo Garbisi, Dino Lamb, Epalahame Faiva, Manuel Zuliani and Paolo Odogwu also dotting down, while Gerswin Mouton replied for Namibia.
“If you had given me 50 points before the game I would have grabbed them,” said Italy coach Kieran Crowley.
“But we turned over about 22 balls and you can’t afford to do that. It was pretty hot out there and the boys are pretty gassed, so we’ll take it and we’ll move on.”
It was a 23rd straight defeat in as many World Cup matches for Namibia, whose only scores of the 2019 tournament were also against Italy when they lost 47-22.