Ireland beat Italy 36-6 to reach the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals as a pool winner and join Argentina and Wales in completing the last-eight lineup at the 20-nation tournament in New Zealand.
The Irish ran in three tries and held Italy scoreless in the second half in Dunedin last night to finish atop Pool C with four wins. Ireland will play Wales on Oct. 8 in the first quarterfinal, with group runner-up Australia facing South Africa in a matchup of two-time champions the day after.
“It was an all or nothing match, a final for us, and we’re just glad to be out of the pool,” Ireland coach Declan Kidney said in a televised interview. “It’s phase one.”
By topping its pool ahead of Australia, Ireland ensured that the Oct. 23 final at Auckland’s Eden Park will feature one team each from the northern and southern hemispheres.
Ireland and Wales open quarterfinal action in five days in Wellington before England takes on France in Auckland. The Springboks and Wallabies meet in the New Zealand capital in the third quarterfinal on Oct. 9, when the top-ranked All Blacks play Argentina at Eden Park.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll scored Ireland’s first try before winger Keith Earls touched down twice, while fly-half Ronan O’Gara kicked 16 points for the Irish, who only missed two of their 59 tackles.
Ireland had entered the tournament after losing all four of its tune-up matches and topped its pool for the first time at a World Cup by winning four straight games, including a 15-6 upset of Australia.
‘Fire in the Belly’
“There’s more to come from this team and we’ll test that next week,” Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien, who was voted man of the match, said in comments distributed by tournament organizers. “There’s fire in the belly.”
Argentina, the surprise third-place finisher at the 2007 World Cup, beat Georgia 25-7 in yesterday’s first game to set up a quarterfinal against New Zealand, which responded to the loss of playmaker Dan Carter by routing Canada 79-15 to end group play with a perfect record.
Pumas captain Felipe Contepomi scored 13 points in Palmerston North as Argentina rallied with 20 unanswered second-half points to seal the Pool B runner-up spot behind England and end Scotland’s run of always making the last eight.
“We have to rest now and then start analyzing the All Blacks and try to see their weakest points,” Contepomi said in a televised interview. “It will hopefully be a good game and we can be competitive on the day. We are thrilled we went through but now we have to work hard.”
Fijians Shut Out
Wales, which missed the quarterfinals four years ago following a 38-34 loss to Fiji, sealed second place in Pool D by scoring nine tries in a 66-0 shutout of the Fijians in Hamilton.
The Welsh had needed one competition point to advance and clinched it with first-half tries from Jamie Roberts, Scott Williams, George North and captain Sam Warburton. Roberts was among the five try-scorers after the break, while fly-half Rhys Priestland booted 13 points and his replacement Stephen Jones converted four tries.
“We’ve built a bit of momentum and confidence going into the quarterfinals,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said in a news conference. “We feel like the squad is in good shape at the moment, but it’s one step at a time.”
New Zealand, which lost Carter to a tournament-ending groin injury as it seeks to end a 24-year world championship drought, outscored Canada by 12 tries to two in Wellington to finish atop Pool A with the maximum 20 points.
Winger Zac Guildford went over four times and back-row forwards Jerome Kaino and Victor Vito each touched down twice for the All Blacks. Winger Conor Trainor got Canada’s tries.
‘Played Pretty Well’
Vito, who started at openside flanker in place of injured regular captain Richie McCaw, finished in the backline after Carter’s backup, Colin Slade, went off with 15 minutes left.
“We’ve just got to make sure that all 29 of us left get in there and make it easy for the guy wearing No. 10,” All Blacks stand-in captain Andrew Hore said. “We played pretty well and if we can keep building on that we’ll go a long way toward winning this thing.”
Carter, the leading points scorer in Test matches, was ruled out of the rest of the tournament after tearing a groin tendon during kicking practice two days ago.
Slade slotted a penalty and missed four of his eight conversion attempts. Piri Weepu kicked all four of his kicks at goal after finishing the game at fly-half.
“I thought Colin played pretty well,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said in a televised interview. “He hadn’t played a lot of football so that shows. He needs more and more. It’s been a tough old day, to be frank.”