Rotorua - Ireland maintained their march toward winning a first-ever World Cup pool with a comfortable 62-12 win over Russia at International Stadium on Sunday.
Following wins over Australia and the United States for their first three-win streak in nearly 20 months, the Irish still must beat Italy in Dunedin next weekend to make the quarter-finals and sweep Pool C.
"New challenge, obviously, next week," said stand-in captain Leo Cullen, making his World Cup debut at 33. "We tried a few different combinations this week. Russia posed us a lot of problems, particularly at the start of the second half when they went in for two tries. But we'll take the win and move on."
Ireland scored nine tries, but the no-chance Russians contributed to an entertaining match before a raucous sell-out crowd of 25 661 by scoring two successive tries in the second half and never giving up. Their lap of the park after the match was cheered by fans of both sides.
Keith Earls scored a pair of tries, and Fergus McFadden, Sean O'Brien, Isaac Boss, Andrew Trimble, Rob Kearney, Shane Jennings and Tony Buckley also touched down. Ronan O'Gara kicked 15 points, missing only one shot, to become Ireland's leading point-scorer in World Cup history.
Russia's tries went to fullback Vasily Artemyev, who was educated outside Dublin and represented Ireland Schools and under-19s, and 20-year-old winger Denis Simplikevich, the squad's youngest player making his international debut. Russia celebrated his try as if it was the game-winner.
Russia had little chance before the match. Playing their third match in 10 days (it was Ireland's third in 14); the Russians had conceded the most tightheads and lost lineouts in their debut World Cup.
Then in the eighth minute, flyhalf Konstantin Rachkov was harshly sin-binned by referee Craig Joubert for a deliberate knock-on. He'd have stayed on the field if he'd intercepted the pass and dropped it.
While Rachkov was off, the Russians' short-handed defense was punished by two converted tries. O'Gara's cross-kick into the in-goal was caught by right wing McFadden, and then O'Gara sent Earls crashing over the line with support from hooker Sean Cronin and flanker O'Brien, who scored in the 12th minute.
Rachkov came back and the Russians enjoyed a long period of parity. Fullback Artemyev even threatened a try on an angled run to the left corner but over-ran his support, and left wing Vladimir Ostroushko caught O'Gara's second cross-kick aimed for McFadden, and took off in front of the terraces but his inside pass was dropped.
All the while, the Russians managed to contain the Irish, grabbing a shirt-tail, a foot or a leg long enough for help to arrive. Their resistance was successful for 25 minutes. Then Ireland scored three tries in the last three minutes of the half.
From a tap penalty led by the loosies, scrumhalf Boss grounded the ball against the right post, left wing Trimble ghosted through the line to set up Earls for the fourth bonus-point try, then Trimble scored from the restart, with an assist from Russia flanker Andrey Garbuzov, who hit the ball towards his own line without anyone near. O'Gara' finally missed a goalkick for the first time in six shots, when he hit the left post.
Ireland's 36-0 halftime lead became 43-0 when Earls slipped out of a tackle and crossed, but then Russia hit back.
Artemyev cut inside scrumhalf Alexander Yanyushkin off scrum ball and sliced through and past Kearney to score. Eight minutes later, Simplikevich backed up a blindside charge into the left corner and Russian and Irish fans celebrated.
But as they did in the first half, the Irish flashed in a trio of tries in the last 15 minutes, to Kearney, after whom O'Gara converted to bring up the 50 mark and walked off as the man of the match, also to O'Brien's replacement Jennings, and prop Buckley.
15 Robert Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Leo Cullen (captain), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy
Substitutes: 16 Rory Best, 17 Mike Ross, 18 Denis Leamy, 19 Shane Jennings, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Geordan Murphy
15 Vasily Artemyev, 14 Denis Simplikevich, 13 Andrey Kuzin, 12 Sergey Trishin, 11 Vladimir Ostroushko, 10 Konstantin Rachkov, 9 Alexander Yanyushkin (captain), 8 Victor Gresev, 7 Andrey Garbuzov, 6 Artem Fatakhov, 5 Adam Byrnes, 4 Denis Antonov, 3 Alexander Khrokin, 2 Valery Tsnobiladze, 1 Sergey Popov
Substitutes: 16 Evgeny Matveev, 17 Ivan Prishchepenko, 18 Alexey Travkin, 19 Alexander Voytov, 20 Andrey Bykanov, 21 Mikhail Sidorov, 22 Mikhail Babaev