As expected the organisation of the World Cup has been of Olympic class but there was a glitch in the system here yesterday when the electronic turnstiles refused to turn. There was a logjam into the Central Coast Stadium and among those caught in the crush was Eddie Jones, the Wallabies coach.
Fast Eddie was reduced to a crawl and after finally taking his seat, witnessed a match that had just about everything. Ireland, not surprisingly, opened their challenge in Pool A with a victory over Romania, but if such a scoreline can be hard-earned this was an example. Jones, putting in some homework on his future opponents, knows enough about Ireland after Australia's defeat in Dublin last year, but would have been surprised at the contribution of Romania, who scored two tries to Ireland's five and never stopped competing or posing problems.
Ireland moved above Australia at the top of their group, earning five points from this match, including a bonus point for scoring four tries or more. They did not come easily.
The captain Keith Wood, after scoring his customary try, limped off in the second half with a "dead leg'' and the stand-off, David Humphreys, after taking a bang to the head, was replaced to save him from further punishment.
Brian O'Driscoll was also in the wars. After displaying a touch of genius with a 50-yard run that almost resulted in a marvellous try, he went down, taking an arm to the head, an act that brought the culprit, Petru Balan, a word of warning from the excellent referee Jonathan Kaplan. O'Driscoll needed five minutes to recover but it emerged that the only thing that was seriously ruffled was his blond perm.
Conditions at Gosford, a coastal town an hour north from Sydney, affected Ireland's approach. A cold wind, described as near hurricane force by Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach, whipped in from the sea, disturbing the palm trees that line the ground. "Conditions were very difficult,'' O'Sullivan said, "we wanted to stretch the Romanians out wide but got involved in a slugging match, which didn't suit us at all. We were under a lot of pressure at times and gave as good a defensive performance as we have for a long time. We expected Romania to come at us with everything including the kitchen sink and that's what happened and that's why I'm fairly happy with the result.''
In recent years Romania would not have been able to afford a kitchen sink, but with support from a couple of sponsors and encouragement from the French Rugby Federation (many of their players ply their trade in France) they are showing signs of recovering from the humiliating 134-0 defeat to England at Twickenham a couple of years ago.
Irish supporters, dominating a crowd of 20,000, made their presence felt, enjoying not just an entertaining match but the local "Spikefest'', a festival devoted to Spike Milligan, whose mother lived in Woy Woy, Gosford's neighbour.
When Wood won the toss he chose to play downwind and Humphreys responded by knocking over three early penalties. It took them 22 minutes to cross the Romanian line, Girvan Dempsey and Kevin Maggs combining smartly to send Shane Horgan over. Wood, who retires from rugby after the World Cup, then finished a move off, taking a pass at full pace and shooting through a gap without a hand being laid on him.
With Humphreys in prime kicking form, Ireland opened up a 26-0 lead at half-time but Romania were in no mood to go quietly. At the end of the first half they came within inches of scoring following a driving maul and opened the second with a sharp sortie down the left flank. In a kick and chase, the wing Gabriel Brezoianu was winning the race with Humphreys but was sent sprawling as the ball rolled over the line. Kaplan decided that Humphreys was guilty of pushing and awarded a penalty try. It was not a controversial decision.
Ionut Tofan, a neat, talented stand-off who missed a series of penalty attempts as he struggled to gauge the wind, saw a drop goal attempt from 45 yards strike an upright. It rebounded straight to Romeo Gontineac, who was held on the line and Keith Gleeson pulled off another try saving tackle before Tofan kicked a penalty. Romania had narrowed it to 26-10 and were mounting some very effective attacks when Ireland delivered a series of devastating blows to finish with a flourish. First Gleeson and Dempsey created a try for Denis Hickie and Ireland went further ahead when Victor Costello smashed over from close range.
It was in the final quarter that Wood and Humphreys were replaced but three minutes from time Hickie claimed his second try and his side's fifth. It was Hickie's 22nd touchdown for his country and he could not bring finer form to the World Cup.
Even then, the Romanians responded and succeeded in having the last word when Valentin Maftei, although surrounded by five Irishmen, managed to beat the lot to a well-judged chip over the line.
"I have no idea at this stage how important it will be, but it is nice to get a bonus point in the bag,'' O'Sullivan said. "We took a lot of bumps and bruises from a very physical match and everything wasn't perfect but I'm satisfied with that start."
Ireland 45 Romania 17
Tries: Hickie 2, Horgan, Wood, Costello; Tries: Penalty try, Maftei
Cons: Humphreys 3; Cons: Tofan, Andrei
Pens: Humphreys 4; Pens: Tofan
Half-time: 26-0 Attendance: 20,000
Ireland: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, K Maggs, D Hickie; D Humphreys (R O'Gara, 67), P Stringer (G Easterby, 70); M Horan (J Hayes, 56), K Wood (capt; S Byrne, 62), R Corrigan, M O'Kelly, P O'Connell, V Costello, A Foley (A Quinlan, 56), K Gleeson.
Romania: D Dumbrava (I Teodorescu, 62); C Sauan (M Vioreanu, 55), V Maftei, R Gontineac (capt), G Brezoianu; I Tofan, L Sirbu (I Andrei, 74); P Balan (C Popescu, 55), R Mavrodin, M Socaciu (P Toderasc, 43), S Socol, A Petrichei, G Chiriac, C Petre (M Niculai, 43), O Tonita (M Tudori, 67).
Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).Reuse content