Ireland took their first steps towards qualification for next year's World Cup with a comprehensive victory over a willing but naïve Russian side here on Saturday.
Two tries from their full-back Girvan Dempsey set the visitors on their way in a scrappy and error-strewn first half in Siberia. The captain, Keith Wood, and Malcolm O'Kelly both went over the line as the Irish improved in the second half.
The balance of Ireland's points came from the boot of the fly-half Ronan O'Gara with three conversions and three penalties. The victory means that Ireland, who were forced to qualify for next year's World Cup after failing to reach the quarter-finals in 1999, lead European qualifying Pool A, which also includes Georgia, and from which the top two teams will go to Australia.
Ireland were playing for the first time in Siberia, around 2,200 miles away from Moscow. Perhaps disconcerted by the unfamiliar environment and surprised by Russian enthusiasm, Ireland struggled for a rhythm early on. But Dempsey's two scores, one from a grubber kick from O'Gara in the second minute, helped his side to a 18-0 lead at the break. The passion of the Russian players was matched by the 15,000 crowd, who chanted "Russia, Russia" as the second half got under way in Krasnoyarsk's Central Stadium, but it was a different Ireland playing after the interval.
Abandoning their reliance on Dempsey's counter-attacks from deep, the Irish camped out for long periods on the Russian line and the rewards were not long coming. Wood, the hooker, crashed over the home side's line after 53 minutes before the second row O'Kelly scored in much the same fashion. A conversion from O'Gara put the score at 35-0. The Russians managed to claw their way on to the scoreboard, however, with a late penalty from the replacement fly-half Werner Pieters.
Ireland play Georgia in Dublin next Saturday. Russia can still qualify for their first appearance at the World Cup if they beat the Georgians in Tbilisi in October.
Russia: Penalty Pieters. Ireland Tries Dempsey 2, Wood, O'Kelly; Conversions O'Gara 3. Penalties O'Gara 3.
Russia: Zakarlyuk; Kuzin, A Sergeev, Korobyeinikov, Dymchenko; Rachkov, Motorin; Shukailov, Romak, Hendriks, Fedchenko, S Sergeev, Grachev, Volshenk, Zykov. Replacements: Travkin, Nikolaichuk, Umbayev, Budnikov, Pieterse, Novikov, Khrokin.
Ireland: Dempsey, Kelly, B O'Driscoll, Maggs, Hickie, O'Gara, Stringer, Corrigan, Wood, Hayes, Longwell, O'Kelly, S. Easterby, Gleeson, Foley. Replacements: S Byrne, P Wallace, Cullen, A Quinlan, G Easterby, Humphreys, Henderson.
Referee: J Jutge (France).
* Italy ran in seven tries as they overpowered Spain 50-3 in a World Cup qualifier at Valladolid yesterday. John Kirwan's side had far too much firepower for the Spaniards who were overwhelmed despite some determined defending.
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