England overcame a potentially dangerous Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina on Saturday thanks to the prolific boot of George Ford as Ireland welcomed back their dynamo Johnny Sexton.
England had recorded just four wins in 13 matches heading into the clash in Marseille and Argentina had stunned them in November.
It started badly for the 2003 champions after Tom Curry was red-carded for a clumsy clash of heads with Argentine full-back Juan Cruz Mallia in just the third minute, becoming the first England player in history to be sent off at a World Cup.
But Ford stepped up to take a scrappy game by the scruff of the neck, kicking three drop-goals and six penalties in a 27-10 victory to lift the pre-tournament tension in the England camp.
“We have had a bit of a rocky build-up to this World Cup but I think in the last 10 days there has been a different feeling to the place. It is only game one and we will look to build next week,” Ford told ITV.
Coach Steve Borthwick said: “There was a sense I had from the players they had been written off a bit too early. They are a quality group that are going to keep on improving and moving forward.”
– ‘Perfect start’ –
Ireland, the world’s number one ranked side, were able to select Sexton — so often their inspiration — for the first time following a six-month injury absence as they took on minnows Romania in the Pool B curtain-raiser.
Sexton’s errant kick handed Gabriel Rupanu the first try for Romania, but Ireland then flattened them with 12 tries in response to romp home 82-8 in Bordeaux.
Sexton grabbed 24 points, including two tries, to become Ireland’s record World Cup points scorer.
“I’m delighted just to get some minutes under my belt,” Sexton said.
“We know there’s a much tougher task coming on Saturday against Tonga.”
Like England, Australia have had a rocky build-up to the tournament but coach Eddie Jones earned his first win in six games with a 35-15 bonus-point victory over battling Georgia.
Full-back Ben Donaldson scored 25 points in just his fourth Test appearance to leave former England and Japan coach Jones hailing a “perfect” start.
“World Cups are about taking each step,” Jones said.
“If we were to plan a perfect World Cup preparation, we said at the end of the round one we want to sit there on five points and that’s what we’ve got.”
In the other game on day two of the marathon tournament, Italy romped to a 52-8 win against Namibia in host nation France’s Pool A.
Originally published as England dispel Rugby World Cup jitters as Ireland hail Sexton