Ireland upset Australia 15-6 to move atop its group at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand as defending champion South Africa routed Fiji and Argentina beat Romania 43-8 for its first win.
Jonathan Sexton kicked nine points and Ronan O’Gara booted six points for Ireland last night at Eden Park in Auckland.
The victory changes the complexion of a tournament in which bookmakers had favored Australia and South Africa to win their groups and avoid a quarterfinal matchup of two-time world champions. Ireland will likely finish atop Pool C if it wins its remaining matches against Russia and Italy.
“It’s half the job done,” Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said in a televised interview. “We’ve two wins and we have two more to get. As much as we’ll enjoy this, let’s not lose sight of the fact we have two more games.”
Ireland leads the pool with eight points, three more than Australia, after two games. No team has lost a pool match and gone on to win the World Cup in six previous editions of the championship. The top two teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals.
Ireland’s victory was its first in five World Cup meetings against Australia. James O’Connor kicked six points for the Wallabies, who came into the tournament having won the Tri-Nations title for the first time in 10 years.
“We didn’t give enough clean platform for our backs,” Australia captain James Horwill said. “Ireland did very well to spoil us. They played very well and deserved to win.”
Sexton kicked a penalty and drop goal and O’Connor scored two penalties to leave the teams tied 6-6 at the half. Sexton then put the Irish in front with a 50th-minute penalty and O’Gara, Ireland’s all-time leading scorer who came on as a substitute in the second half, booted two penalties to secure the victory.
Ireland had lost its four World Cup warm-up games before beating the U.S. 22-10 in its opener.
“It’s the performance we knew we had in us,” O’Driscoll said. “We had to dig deeper than we have done in the past five games.”
South Africa scored six unanswered tries from six different players in Wellington, while Morne Steyn kicked five conversions and two penalties.
“We had some work to do, we were a bit rusty in the first game,” South Africa captain John Smit said in a televised interview. “It was just what we needed. For me, more than anything, I’m happy to have kept a team like Fiji off the try line. That’s a pretty good task.”
The victory lifted South Africa to the top of Pool D with nine points through two matches ahead of Fiji and Samoa, which plays Wales today.
Morne Steyn finished with 21 points after also adding a 62nd-minute try, which secured the bonus point for scoring at least four tries in a match.
Frans Steyn, Tendai Mtawarira, Danie Rossouw, Gurthro Steenkamp and Jaque Fourie also touched down for the Springboks. Fiji got its only points from a Seremai Bai penalty.
“It was a disappointing result,” Fiji captain Deacon Manu said. “It was tough game out there for us and the Springboks probably showed why they’re world champions.”
Argentina, which finished third four years ago, rebounded from last week’s 13-9 loss to England by scoring six tries to secure a bonus-point win over Romania.
“We were desperate to get a win, that was the only option for us,” Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said in a televised interview. “The performance was a little bit patchy sometimes, but we are very happy.”
Santiago Fernandez, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Figallo, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino Juan Jose Imhoff and Genaro Fessia all touched down for the Pumas at Rugby Park in Invercargill. Martin Rodriguez kicked five conversions and a penalty for Argentina’s other 13 points.
Argentina moved into second place in Pool B with six points, three behind leader Scotland and two ahead of England, which plays Georgia today. France and Canada meet in today’s final match in Napier.
U.S. captain Todd Clever escaped a ban after admitting to a dangerous-tackle charge following his team’s 13-6 win over Russia three days ago. The International Rugby Board’s independent judicial officer, Jeff Blackett, determined at a hearing in Auckland that the offense was “at the lower end of the scale of seriousness” and no further sanction was necessary.
Yesterday’s ruling means Clever, a 28-year-old flanker, is available for the Eagles’ next match against Australia on Sept. 23 in Wellington.