Andy Farrell purred on Saturday about Ireland’s talisman Johnny Sexton returning to action “firing on all cylinders” at the Rugby World Cup.
The head coach also joked about Sexton becoming the oldest player to represent Ireland but he showed little sign of rustiness after a six-month hiatus from competitive rugby with 24 points in the 82-8 thrashing of Romania in their Pool B opener.
Becoming Ireland’s oldest player at the age of 38 — he hangs up his boots at the end of this campaign — was not the only new mark Sexton set in the sweltering conditions of Bordeaux.
His match tally took him past Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s record World Cup points scorer, with the former fly-half’s overall Ireland record of 1,083 next in Sexton’s sights — he is just nine points off it.
“He broke a few records, the oldest player selected,” said Farrell with a grin.
“Now the points record is in his sights and he will get that if selected against Tonga next Saturday.
“However, the most pleasing part was the 60 minutes he got under his belt.
“To see him firing on all cylinders and ready to fire for the rest of the tournament.”
Sexton warmed up as the match went along after beginning it with a grubber kick that was gratefully accepted by the Romanians, who scored a try.
However, two tries and several conversions followed from his boot to leave him more or less content with his return.
He had not kicked a ball in anger since suffering a groin injury as Ireland beat England in March to secure the Six Nations Grand Slam.
He also missed Ireland’s three warmup matches due to a ban.
“I had six months thinking about this match, part of the absence was self-inflicted, it was my mistake,” said Sexton.
“Once the plan was clear and fixed on this match I trained hard to do the prep work for this game.
“Hopefully I am now up to match speed for the next game.”
Sexton, whose last remaining goal is captaining the Irish to World Cup glory, says Tonga will be a tougher proposition.
“Tonga will be a very different game, no disrespect to Romania as they fronted up brilliantly,” said Sexton.
“However, Tonga have a different level of player. They are going to be a huge challenge, we have got to be ready.”
Farrell praised Bundee Aki, who scored two tries and created several others of the dozen Ireland racked up.
It was a far cry from the sour end to his World Cup four years ago when the centre was sent off against Samoa and missed the quarter-final with New Zealand.
Farrell was especially pleased at how the team showed a hunger to go and score the 12th try right at the end.
“I thought Hugo Keenan was going to kick it out but it was just as well Mack Hansen behaved like an Under-12 player and kept the ball alive,” said Farrell.
“It was very important for the people we got off to a good start.
“60,000 Irish homes have registered with World Rugby for tickets. Irish people coming from the UK, Europe or USA, what a journey it will be, I am more pleased for them.
“I hope the Irish people coming in the next few weeks can enjoy themselves.
“The journey has just started and I hope it will get a little bit better as well.”
Farrell’s opposite number Eugen Apjok said the score reflected the difference in resources and top-level competition between the two countries.
“One has to accept this is the reality, the difference between us and the others,” he said.
“Being together for a few days it is impossible to achieve miracles.”
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP