Andy Farrell was delighted to have Johnny Sexton back “firing on all cylinders” following the Ireland captain’s record-breaking return in a 12-try demolition of Romania.
Influential fly-half Sexton shrugged off an absence of almost six months by registering two tries and seven conversions as his side launched their Rugby World Cup campaign with a thumping 82-8 win.
The 38-year-old’s impressive 24-point haul in the blistering heat of Bordeaux moved him on to a total of 102 in the competition, surpassing the 93 registered by former team-mate Ronan O’Gara.
Sexton, who is playing at his fourth World Cup, is now only nine points shy of O’Gara’s national record tally of 1,083, while he also took the title of Ireland’s oldest international from retired prop John Hayes.
Head coach Farrell could not resist poking fun at his veteran skipper as he backed him to make more history in the coming weeks against Tonga, South Africa and Scotland.
“I heard he broke a few records today,” said Farrell. “What was the record, Johnny? The oldest player to play at the tournament, that’s the first one.
“And what was the other one, points scored? Twenty-four points, puts him nine points behind the record for the most points scored for any Irish player.
“So you would think if selected that he’d be able to get that record.
“But the most pleasing point for us was definitely 60-odd minutes under the belt and firing on all cylinders and fit and healthy and ready to go for the rest of the competition.”
An expectant sea of green flooded the stands of Stade de Bordeaux in sweltering conditions before the world’s top-ranked nation delivered in emphatic fashion.
Ireland’s 74-point victory was their biggest in a World Cup fixture and their second greatest in a Test match, behind a 83-3 success over the United States in 2000.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 9, 2023
Peter O’Mahony, Bundee Aki and Tadhg Beirne also claimed doubles in a clinical Pool B opener, with further scores coming from Jamison Gibson-Park, Hugo Keenan, Rob Herring and Joe McCarthy.
Sexton was available for the first time since sustaining a groin issue in helping Ireland clinch the Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam against England on March 18.
He missed his country’s three warm-up matches through suspension following “confrontational and aggressive” behaviour towards referee Jaco Peyper.
“(I had) six months thinking about it, obviously part of that was self-inflicted with my mistake,” Sexton, who received a standing ovation when he was replaced 15 minutes from time, said of his long-awaited comeback.
“I’m obviously delighted to be back. I didn’t expect conditions to be like that, it was incredibly hot, in the warm-up in particular.
“I’m delighted to get through some minutes, we got through some good stuff.
“But there’s lots to improve on, both individually and as a team, and we know the challenge next week (Tonga in Nantes) is going to be up a couple of levels.
“We’re very, very happy with five points and a good points difference as well, which could matter at the end of the pool.”