The World Cup starts now, was the message Ireland coach Joe Schmidt had for his players after a 44-10 win over Romania sent them top of Pool D, but with sterner tests on the horizon. With bonus points safely tucked away from their opening Rugby World Cup salvo against Canada and the one-sided affair at Wembley on 27 September, the task of navigating through early encounters as heavy favourites has been accomplished.
But Ireland's ultimate fate in the group will be decided in their final two games, against Italy and France, with 4 October's clash against the Azzurri providing an early opportunity to wrap up a spot in the quarter-finals.
"You know if you win three games in your pool that you are pretty much secure in going through, particularly on the back of having a couple of bonus points already," Schmidt told reporters. "For us it starts in earnest now, because we know we can qualify if we win next weekend. Italy will know that they've had a win and a loss, they need to win next weekend to qualify, so for us it becomes a kind of top 16 game for us to make sure that we can play our way through that."
The victory over Romania, gained with a largely second-string side, was never in doubt, despite some early and dogged resistance from Ireland's second-tier opponents. Yet the game was still not to Schmidt's total satisfaction.
"I don't think you are ever totally satisfied, because if you are satisfied you have had the perfect game," he said. "But at the same time we knew also that it is a difficult thing to work your way through a couple of games where you are heavily favoured to get the right result."
There were several positives for Schmidt, not least a number of excellent individual performances from full-back Simon Zebo, wing Bowe and fly-half Ian Madigan among others. The Ireland coach added: "I thought there were a number of players that did perform really well and will create a bit of a selection headache for us leading into Italy."