By Simon Lewis
Ireland booked their place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a comprehensive victory over Samoa but they will have to go into the knockout stages without Bundee Aki following the centre’s first-half red card.
Joe Schmidt’s side did exactly what was required to guarantee their progress to the last eight, securing the try bonus point just before half-time that allowed them to keep their destiny in their own hands without relying on the outcome of Japan’s clash with Scotland on Sunday.
Yet as encouraging as this seven-try victory at Hakatanomori Stadium was after two patchy performances against Pool A rivals Japan and Russia, the celebrations will be tempered following Aki’s 28th-minute yellow card for a high tackle on Samoan fly-half Ulupano Seuteni.
Samoa had seen hooker Seilala Lam yellow carded for a similar offence in a tackle on Jacob Stockdale but Australian referee Nic Berry and his officials decided there was a greater degree of danger to the ball carrier with Aki’s high contact, his left shoulder meeting Seuteni’s jaw. The fly-half was forced off for a Head Injury Assessment from which he did not return but Aki had already left the pitch and the concern will be that a disciplinary hearing could extend his punishment beyond the mandatory one-match ban.
Ireland were already in control of this game in much cooler and less humid conditions that had contributed to their malaise in defeat to Japan and also the 35-0 win over Russia. Aki was dismissed with his side leading 21-5 thanks to tries from captain Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton but the red card followed a worrying reply from Samoa captain Jack Lam.
Schmidt’s men got over their wobble, Sexton adding another try just before half-time to send his side into the break 26-5 up and with the bonus point already logged. Second-tries from Man of the match and full-back Jordan Larmour, CJ Stander and replacement Andrew Conway followed without reply but whether Ireland meet South Africa or New Zealand in the quarters up in Tokyo next weekend, they will find much more powerful and stubborn resistance than that offered by this brave but limited Samoan side.
IRELAND: J Larmour; K Earls, R Henshaw (A Conway, 62), B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery, 50), C Murray (L McGrath, 52); C Healy (D Kilcoyne, 56), R Best – captain (N Scannell, 50), T Furlong (A Porter, 45); I Henderson, James Ryan (J Kleyn, 56); T Beirne (P O’Mahony, 60), J van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Red card: B Aki 28 mins
SAMOA: T Nanai-Williams; A Tuala (K Fonotia, 50, A Leiua, H Taefu, E Fidow; U Seuteni (T Pisi, 29), D Polataivao (P Cowley, 69); L Mulipola (P Alo-Emile, 53), S Lam (R Niuia, 46), M Alaalatoa (Jordan Lay, 46); T Paulo (R Niuia, 14-16; P Faasalele, 53), K Le’aupepe; C Vui, TJ Ioane (J Tyrell, 69), J Lam – captain.
Yellow card: S Lam 6-16 mins, TJ Ioane 58-68
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia).