Head coach Jean-Marc Gonzalez insisted Spain have plenty more weapons than just his son Theo after his sensational 25-point haul steered Los Teros to a 55-32 opening wheelchair win over Ireland.
Gonzalez the player scored two tries and slotted eight out of eight conversions before showing off his full box of tricks with a late field goal to put some gloss on the scoreline against a plucky Wolfhounds side.
Ireland took the lead through Phil Roberts but were always fighting an uphill battle despite captain Peter Johnston’s four tries as David Berty’s hat-trick and doubles for Gonzalez and Yannick Martin ensured Spain finished as worthy winners.
Jean-Marc Gonzalez said: “What can I say? He’s my son. He has been playing rugby for only 12 years and always against people at a higher level, which makes him stronger.
“When he is above the rest, it’s because the team is above – it’s not a question of Theo Gonzalez. The team was playing at a higher level so Theo was too.”
Spain got off to a slow start against Ireland, replacements for Norway who pulled out of the competition after Covid disrupted their preparation.
Two penalties gave Ireland easy field position, and they capitalised immediately as an offload out the back door from Toby Burton-Carter set Rick Rodgers away who fed Roberts for the first score in the corner.
However, Spain hit straight back as Martin got on the outside to dot down after five minutes before Gonzalez turned provider as his offload sent Joel Lacombe racing away down the left wing for Spain’s second score, the skipper again adding the extras to stretch the lead to 12-4.
Ireland found Spain’s speed of play difficult to live with and replacement Berty took full advantage to stretch out for his side’s third before Gonzalez took Spain further ahead, keeping the ball expertly out of reach of the Irish defence before converting to make it 24-4.
Berty snuck over down the blindside for his second score but Ireland captain Johnston stemmed the tide as he dummied and swerved over the line before reducing the arrears to 30-10 at half-time with his first successful conversion.
Things continued in a similar fashion after the break as Gonzalez slipped a lovely ball to Berty who sped into the corner to seal his hat-trick.
However, Johnston replied instantly, scooping up the bobbling ball following a rare Gonzalez mistake to reduce the gap to 36-14.
And the Wolfhounds leader snaffled his hat-trick with his second score inside four minutes to give underdogs Ireland a foothold back in the game at 36-20 with half-an-hour still to play.
Gonzalez’s well-timed pass found Raphael Monedero in space and he darted into the corner for Spain’s seventh try and they soon had an eighth when Martin crossed for his second despite Johnston’s best efforts.
James McCarthy scored for Ireland before Gonzalez swooped for his second, however, the Wolfhounds skipper had the last say with his fourth score before insisting that his side are looking further ahead than just this World Cup as they continue to evolve as a wheelchair rugby league nation.
“I think we’ve come in as underdogs. We’ve come in knowing this World Cup is a development World Cup for us,” explained Johnston.
“We weren’t expecting to even be in the World Cup a year ago and we are looking forward to showing up in the next World Cup as not the underdogs, we will be the threat.”
Ireland face Australia next in what Johnston knows will be an even bigger step up, albeit one he is relishing.
He added: “I think they are going to be quicker, harder-hitting and a lot more fun, I can’t wait for it.”
Spain are also eager to test themselves against the best with hosts England next up and although Jean-Marc Gonzalez does not expect his side to pull off an almighty shock, he is confident they will make England sweat it out.
He said: “They are more or less the same level as [defending champions] France. We know we have a small chance to win but we are going to show that they have to make an extra effort to beat us.”
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