O'Gara starts to smile again as Ireland feel right at home

Ireland 62 Russia 12
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The Independent Online

Ireland's campaign is fast gaining a momentum all of its own in New Zealand after they swept past Russia towards what the Irish see as a quarter-final decider against Italy in Dunedin on Sunday.

Declan Kidney's men rolled through Rotorua with a nine-try demolition of Russia, to the raucous delight of travelling fans who descended in their campervans to once again make a little corner of these islands Ireland.

Roared on by the vast majority of a 25,000 crowd here, Ireland are becoming the second team of New Zealand with a groundswell of support – and a burgeoning sense of anticipation.

"When the rain was falling and with the amount of support out there for the Irish, it felt like I was back at Thomond Park again," admitted Russia's coach Kingsley Jones, late of Sale Sharks.

Momentum is growing on the pitch too as Ireland made light work of Russia, wrapping up a bonus point with a timely flurry of tries just before half- time and then completing the launch towards their encounter with Italy, a game that will shape their path in the knock-out stage.

Kidney said: "It felt like a home game with all the support. We had a golden patch before half-time but we blew hot and cold and that will help focus the minds in training this week. Everyone was talking before the World Cup about the Australia game but we always knew Italy would be the game to get out of the group."

Fergus McFadden and Sean O'Brien crossed early on but it took three tries in a six-minute blitz for Ireland to take total control just before half-time, when Isaac Boss and Andrew Trimble clinched the bonus point.

Keith Earls scored either side of the break but was denied a hat-trick by a bruised leg and Rob Kearney, replacement Shane Jennings and Tony Buckley went over from close range as Russia ran out of gas.

Ronan O'Gara gave Kidney a strong reminder of his capabilities with an assured display, just days after hinting he would soon be retiring from Test rugby when he was snubbed against Australia. But he threw his hat back into the ring with a man of the match award ahead of that crucial last game of Pool C. Jonathan Sexton stepped off the bench here, though exactly who will start against Italy remains to be seen.

Kidney said: "We're blessed to have two good No 10s and we saw that again here. In a tournament like this, you need to be able to dip into your resources and that's the biggest thing we will take from this."

O'Gara added: "I'm mentally in a good place right now. I feel valued and I'm playing with a smile on my face, and I feel refreshed. Of course I was upset not to be selected against Australia. But once you get over that initial disappointment you realise you still have an important role to play. Sometimes you can have just as big an impact off the bench.

"If that's the situation going forward then I'll go with it. But I think a few of us put ourselves forward for selection today. We played some good stuff at times when we kept things simple. When we made things complicated then we didn't look so good and made unforced errors.

"But I really enjoyed it. We have a great mix of youth and experience in the backline. The forwards were really firing against Australia so the backs wanted to make a statement here. We have got some momentum, and sport is all about making the most of that."

Kearney, O'Brien and Earls all took knocks but are expected to be available this weekend. The main concern for Kidney out of this match will be the two tries Russia ran in from first phase in midfield with relative ease.

The first was sparked by livewire scrum-half Alexander Yanyushkin, who darted unhindered from the back of a scrum and released the Dublin-educated Northampton wing Vasily Artemyev, who scorched past Kearney to score on 50 minutes. Moments later Russia grabbed a second with another set-piece move. Vladimir Ostroushko sped past Paddy Wallace, though Denis Simplikevich still had plenty to do to shrug off McFadden and Trimble.

Scorers: Ireland: Tries McFadden, O'Brien, Boss, Earls (2), Trimble, Kearney, Jennings, Buckley; Conversions O'Gara (6), Sexton.; Penalties O'Gara. Russia: Tries Artemyev, Simplikevich; Conversion Rachkov.

Ireland: R Kearney; F McFadden, K Earls (G Murphy, 48), P Wallace, A Trimble; R O'Gara (J Sexton, 65), I Boss (E Reddan, 65); C Healy (M Ross, 48), S Cronin, T Buckley, D O'Callaghan (D Leamy, 45), L Cullen (capt), D Ryan, J Heaslip, S O'Brien (S Jennings, 57).

Russia: V Artemyev; D Simplikevich, A Kuzin, S Trishin, V Ostroushko (M Babaev, 65); K Rachkov, A Yanyushkin (capt; A Bykanov, 72); S Popov (A Voytov, 73), V Tsnobiladze (E Matveev, 49), A Khrokin (I Prishchepenko, 49), D Antonov (A Voytov, 48), A Byrnes, A Fatakhov, V Gresev, A Garbuzov (M Sidorov, 44).

Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).

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