Ireland get Rugby World Cup of to perfect start in France as expectation builds

Heroes on the pitch - heroes off it.

This week the Ireland rugby team put their World Cup dreams into perspective when they visited a children's cancer hospital at their training base in Tours. The smiles on the kid's faces said it all, to throw a ball around with Bundi Aki and get a selfie with Mack Hansen was the highlight of their day, week, month, maybe even year.

Those children are the real fighters.

The first weekend of the World Cup whet the appetite for things to come in the tournament. France beat New Zealand to lay down a marker on the opening night.

Speaking to Irish fans in Bordeaux most said they would prefer to face New Zealand in a potential quarter final as France looked more dangerous in that game.

But there’s a lot of rugby to be played before then. From Ireland's point of view it was a successful weekend. They survived the blistering Bordeaux temperatures in the high 30's, they recorded a record World Cup win beating Romania 82-8, they put smiles on the faces of the thousands Irish fans who travelled out. But having watched the France v the All Blacks game in their hotel, they all know they must keep the momentum going, finishing top of their pool would mean.

This weekend against Tonga is sure to pose a more difficult test, especially as World Rugby's 2021 eligibility rule change means former All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu and George Moala are part of the Tonga squad, as is former Australian lock Adam Coleman. That's why Andy Farrell has opted to put out another strong team in Nantes on Saturday. Some critics claimed Johnny Sexton would be better coming off the bench but he starts again at fly half and captain. He was excellent for Ireland in their opening game, not just by contributing his highest points tally in a test of 24, but his leadership, decision making and quick passing were all crucial to Ireland recovering so well from the early blip which Romania scored a try after two minutes.

Farrell has made just four personnel changes this week claiming at today's press conference that he will give Tonga the respect they deserve. He stated his squad are in a very good place right now and he wants to keep that continuity and consistency going.

He also laughed off suggestions that Mack Hansen had done something wrong to be originally excluded from the 23 man squad last weekend.

Hansen starts this week on the wing and Conor Murray at scrum half.

Ronan Kelleher and Josh van der Flier are promoted from the bench to start this week and Ulster's Rob Herring joins Iain Hendseron on the bench.

There is no room for their Ulster team mate Stuart McCloskey and Tom O'Toole hasn't made the match day 23 either. Asked if Ireland's second game against Japan at the last Rugby World Cup when they suffered a shock defeat had any part to play in his selection this week, Farrell insisted it had nothing to do with it. "That was four years ago, we are a different team now, different circumstances, different competition, we move on, " he said. Four years ago Ireland went in as the team ranked No.1 in the World, that part is the same but Farrell is right, the rest is different. If they're to go further this time it will require big performances and more victories - and not just in pivotal group games against South Africa and Scotland. Five points and an injury free 80 minutes would be a perfect return this weekend against Tonga. Ireland were heroes off the pitch this week, but who will be the heroes on October 28th after the Rugby World Cup Final?

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