Ireland's James Heaslip celebrates their win over France ©Getty Images

Ireland beat France 24-9 to top Pool D at the Rugby World Cup and avoid a quarter-final clash with favourites New Zealand.

The winners of the contest knew they would win the group and both of the Six Nations rivals were eager to do just that to avoid the might of the All Blacks.

A supposedly easier last eight clash with Argentina now awaits the Irish at England 2015, while France will have to gear themselves up for an encounter with New Zealand in what will be a repeat of the 2011 final.

There were major blows for Ireland when they lost both fly-half Johnny Sexton and lock Paul O'Connell - arguably their two most influential players - to injury in the first half at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

The first half was also notable for an apparent punch by Ireland's Sean O'Brien on Frenchman Pascal Pape, which was missed by the officials but is likely to see the former cited.

It was a kicking battle before the break with Sexton successfully converting a penalty against the run of play after ten minutes, an effort which was cancelled out by France's Scott Spedding to make it 3-3.

The pair traded penalties again, before Ian Madigan was also successful from the tee for Ireland after Sexton had gone off. 

Keith Earls had the best chance of the half for a try, but the Irish centre spilled the ball when a clean catch would have led to a simple score.

That meant it was 9-6 to the Irish at half-time, but Earls' clanger was soon forgotten in the second half as Ireland shrugged off the blow of losing the injured duo to cross for the first time.

Rob Kearney was the man to stretch for the line although Madigan was to miss the conversion, and Ireland then lost a third player to injury as back rower Peter O’Mahony was carried off.

In an increasingly nervous second half, France pulled the score back to 14-9 thanks to Morgan Parra's penalty after O'Brien failed to roll away at the tackle. 

That was as good as it got for the French though as Connor Murray settled the contest with another Irish try with eight minutes to go, after he dotted down on the base of the post.

Madigan converted and then kicked a late penalty to add further gloss to the score.

Elsewhere in Pool D, Italy avoided an upset against Romania as they won 32-22 at Exeter's Sandy Park to secure third spot in the pool and with it, qualification for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Six Nations side Italy were heavy favourites but a defeat would have seen the Romanians overtake them in the standings.

Florin Vlaicu, whose last-gasp penalty gave Romania their sole victory in the pool over Canada, put his side in front with an early penalty but from then on the first-half was one way traffic in the other direction.

Leonardo Sarto crossed for the first Italian try and although Tommaso Allan missed the conversion, he made no mistake with a penalty shortly afterwards to give his side an 8-3 lead.

Italy saw off Romania to earn a place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan
Italy saw off Romania to earn a place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan ©Getty Images

Italy grew as the half went on and added two more tries before the break, through Edoardo Gori and Allan, with the latter converting both to secure a commanding 22-3 advantage at the interval.

Alessandro Zanni scored the fourth Italian try shortly into the second half to seal the bonus point, with Allan again converting, but Romania then came to life and, to their credit, fought back into the match in the closing stages.

Adrian Apostol's try was followed by Valentin Popîrlan crossing the whitewash, with an Allan penalty for Italy sandwiched in between.

Vlaicu converted both tries and Apostol was to go over again in the closing stages, but this time the extras were missed.

In the end Romania's resurgence was too little, too late, but they at least came away from the game with credit after their second half exploits.

In Pool D, Argentina had already qualified for the quarter-finals in second place behind New Zealand, but finished their group stage campaign by routing Namibia 64-19.

The Pumas scored nine tries in Leicester, with Juan Martín Hernández, Matías Moroni, Horacio Agulla, Facundo Isa, Lucas Noguera Paz, Matías Alemanno, Leonardo Senatore, Julián Montoya and Tomás Cubelli all going over.

Johan Tromp, JC Greyling and Eugene Jantjies got their names on the try-list for Namibia who ended the tournament with four defeats.

In the final game today, Japan beat the United States in a dead-rubber in Group B, 28-18.

The Japanese caused the biggest shock of the tournament by beating South Africa in their opening match, but have become the first team to exit after the pool stage with three victories from four with the Springboks and Scotland going through.

The tournament now takes a break until Saturday when the quarter finals will begin, with South Africa facing Wales at Twickenham before New Zealand and France's game at the Millennium Stadium.

On Sunday, Australia and Scotland will meet at Twickenham after Argentina and Ireland have collided in Cardiff.

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