The destructive typhoon that was hitting Japan's main island while Ireland was beating Samoa down south in Fukuoka forced Saturday's two other games to be canceled, and cast serious doubt over the chances of Japan and Scotland getting to play in Yokohama on Sunday. That decision will wait until morning.
Ireland's bonus-point win, achieved despite being a player down for more than half the game, means Scotland has to beat Japan to have any chance of advancing. Ireland moved atop Pool A with 16 points, two more than Japan and six clear of Scotland. Canceled games are logged as 0-0 ties and both teams are awarded two competition points, enough for Japan to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time.
There were plenty of permutations heading into the last weekend of the group stage, so Ireland needed to ensure it controlled its own quarterfinal destiny. The bonus point was wrapped up before halftime, with flyhalf Johnny Sexton crossing for two tries.
"I really liked the start. I think we've started really well in all four games and haven't continued it," Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said. "Today we did," But they had to play more than 50 minutes with 14 men after center Bundee Aki became the first Ireland player sent off at a World Cup.
"Tactically we were relatively solid when we lost Bundee," Schmidt said. "The forwards muscled up well and had to work hard." Aki, who is of Samoan descent, was red carded in the 29th minute for a dangerous high tackle on Ulupano Seuteni, leading with his shoulder in the flyhalf's face.
Both head coaches considered it a fair tackle from Bundee, who risks being ruled out of the quarterfinals under World Rugby's crackdown on high tackles. "It's all split-second stuff. We'll see what the judiciary decide. But once it's a red card you sense a loss of control over what happens next, no matter what you present," Schmidt said. "I certainly feel for Bundee, he's pretty devastated that any further participation is potentially at risk."
Samoa's head coach Steve Jackson threw his weight behind Bundee getting reprieved. "I hope no further sanction comes to him. People don't go out there to make head contact," Jackson said. "There are more concussions that come from tackles around the knee, and people who get kneed in the head. Was their malice? No. He only had two or three meters to make a decision."
It took the tournament tally for reds to a record-extending seven. But it made little difference to the contest, such was Ireland's domination in the forwards allied to the quick-thinking of Sexton and his halves partner Conor Murray.
The score was 21-5 when Aki was sent off — Ireland's tries coming from hooker Rory Best, prop Tadhg Furlong and Sexton — and 26 unanswered points followed. "It's important to keep your composure. We felt we were in a good rhythm before the red card and you have to increase your intensity," Best said.
Sexton got his second try of the game right on the halftime buzzer, fed quickly by Murray on the blind side from a close-range scrum. Sexton then converted fullback Jordan Larmour's early into the second half after Murray's smart miss-out pass fooled Samoa's ragged defense.
No. 8 CJ Stander and replacement winger Andrew Conway added further tries. Backrower Jack Lam scored Samoa's only try, although both teams had a second-half try ruled out by TMO. Best got the first try in the fourth minute from a driving maul. It was awarded after one of several video reviews.
TMO was used again moments later to sin-bin hooker Seilala Lam for planting his shoulder into left winger Jacob Stockdale's face as both player crouched. Ireland punished that sloppy mistake with a converted try in the eighth. Furlong broke four tackles, even going through one with an almost ballet-like pirouette that is most irregular for a player of his imposing size.
Then Sexton swapped passes neatly with Larmour and sprinted over the line before converting his try for 21-0. Samoa reduced the deficit when Lam burrowed over from close range. Then, Aki clobbered Seuteni, sending him down to the ground and rocking back on his knees. It was a heavy hit, and Seuteni needed treatment on the field before going off.
Ireland upped its urgency, and was helped by a yellow card for Samoa flanker TJ Ioane. "It was pretty poor discipline from us," Jackson said. "We gave away too many penalties."
More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports