Ireland delivered on their promise to hit form when it mattered most by stunning Scotland 27-3 with a bonus-point blitz to launch their Japanese Rugby World Cup quest in style.
James Ryan, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Conway all crossed in Yokohama as Ireland made good on all their pre-tournament pledges.
Ireland’s muscle-bound victory hands Joe Schmidt’s men a fine chance to top Pool A and book a likely quarter-final battle with South Africa, following the Springboks’ loss to New Zealand.
Ireland entered the tournament as the world’s top-ranked team for the first time in history, but were also dogged by the spectre of their record 57-15 defeat by England at Twickenham just last month.
Head coach Schmidt’s tournament plans had been heavily scrutinised, Rory Best’s captaincy questioned, and Ireland were left to lament a second frustrating loss to England in the calendar year.
All boss Schmidt’s plans came to fruition on the shores of Tokyo Bay however, with skipper Best leading from the front with a timeless, tub-thumping, try-scoring turn.
Ireland will move on to face hosts Japan in Shizuoka on Saturday feeling fully vindicated in their preparations, boasting a spring in their step and a zip in their play.
Schmidt’s men entered this clash missing backline stalwarts Rob Kearney and Keith Earls through injury, but their understudies Jordan Larmour and Conway excelled in a hugely-comprehensive Ireland performance.
Scotland’s wretched afternoon was worsened all the more by a nasty-looking knee injury to Hamish Watson, that could well end his tournament.
Watson’s left knee buckled amid a robust but legal double ruck cleanout from Cian Healy and Furlong, with the Edinburgh flanker immediately letting out a blood-curdling scream clearly audible on the referee mic feed.
Scotland face Samoa in Kobe on Monday, and it would seem highly likely they will do so without the accomplished but luckless Watson.
Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony and Bundee Aki did not return after Head Injury Assessments (HIAs) and Josh Van Der Flier was forced out late on, with all three now doubts to face Japan.
Johnny Sexton handed goal-kicking duties to Conor Murray, perhaps hampered by a minor leg niggle. Ireland withdrew their premier playmaker right after the fourth try, clearly protecting the British & Irish Lions star for later in the tournament.
Ireland blasted into the Scots from the very first second, attacking in relentless waves and denying Gregor Townsend’s men any foothold.
A smartly-angled lineout drive allowed Best to break blind and Murray to chip in behind. Iain Henderson ploughed right over Stuart McInally to bust a midfield cavern and set camp on the Scotland tryline.
Two tight phases later, and Ryan burrowed home to hand Schmidt’s men the dream start.
Garry Ringrose then scythed down Stuart Hogg in midfield, Aki latched on for the turnover and Ireland were back on the attack.
WP Nel was pinged for side entry from the resulting penalty lineout and Sexton punted to the corner for another fine platform. And Ireland’s flawless lineout catch-and-drive flattened the Scots, with skipper Best rising last from the pile for his 11th Test try.
Greig Laidlaw finally put Scotland on the board on the quarter-hour with a penalty goal, but Townsend’s men were never able to settle.
Tommy Seymour knocked on in midfield, Conway fly-hacked deep and the loose ball rebounded off the post. Hogg scooped up but was duly hauled back over his line by Conway, handing Ireland a five-metre scrum.
CJ Stander powered off the set-piece to put Ireland in touching distance again, and Furlong busted in for the third try – all inside the half-hour.
Murray slotted the conversion to post a lead of 19-3 that Ireland took into the break, their scrum-half shanking a penalty shot on the stroke of half-time.
No fourth score before the turnaround, but Ireland still had time for Stander to race past an unguarded Scotland ruck, and for Jacob Stockdale to chip and chase 40 yards down an unguarded blindside off a scrum.
A neat steal in Ireland’s 22 secured Scotland a fine scoring chance after the break, only for John Barclay to knock on cheaply.
That mistake allowed Ireland to regain the momentum, with Conway the chief beneficiary when racing in at the right corner for a smart finish.
Four tries and the bonus point inside the hour, and boss Schmidt had seen enough: Sexton was withdrawn, with his replacement Jack Carty posting a late penalty in a comfortable cameo.
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Scotland slumped to a disheartening 27-3 defeat against Ireland as the Dark Blues began their Rugby World Cup under a dark cloud.
Despite having designs on the Webb Ellis Cup, and at least targeting a first-ever trip to the semi-finals, while their opponents are just concentrating on getting out of the group, Ireland were expected to be severely tested by their fellow home nation.
But it was a one-sided affair from the start as Ireland’s ferocious forwards dominated the first half, while staunch defence kept Scotland under control as they improved after the break.
James Ryan, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong barged over for first-half scores, with Andrew Conway crossing for a bonus point try in a second half that marked by a downpour. For the Scots, a sole Greig Laidlaw penalty was a paltry return from a game expected to be much more of a contest.
Here is how we rated the Scotland players:
Allan Dell 7: Also part of the front row that tried to stem Ireland’s flow, making 12 tackles.
Stuart McInally 7: Captain led from front, or tried to. Embarked on 12 runs, only Hogg made more, and tackled like a demon (10). Looked visibly dejected.
Willem Nel 7: Ferocious on the back foot as he made 16 tackles – not missing one. No-one came close.
Grant Gilchrist 3: Two missed tackles and conceded a turnover, not a good day at the office.
Jonny Gray 6: Tackling machine, making 11/11, and the go-to man in the lineout. Beat a man but fell foul of impressive Irish pack.
John Barclay 4: Dropped the ball as Scotland had finally made inroads into Ireland and were camped in the shadow of their posts. Edinburgh No8 has had better games.
Hamish Watson 5: Lost to a serious leg injury. Appeared in tears as he was wheeled off for what looks likely his first and last involvement at the World Cup.
Ryan Wilson 3: Dropped a high punt as conditions worsened. It got worse for Wilson as Ireland scored from it. Three handling errors in total. Woeful.
Greig Laidlaw 4: Visibly frustrated as he tried to cajole his team-mates. Booted side’s only points. Made significantly more passes (64) than anyone else, but offered little.
Finn Russell 5: Did well to deliver pass to Maitland – that led to penalty – before being obliterated by Aki. Tried his best to spark a suffocated Scotland attack, came to life and showed flashes of brilliance in second half.
Sean Maitland 7: Always looked one of the players most likely to deliver. Good driving run to start second half. Made second most metres (49), but missed two of three tackles.
Sam Johnson 5: Try-saving tackle on Stockdale in first half, otherwise it would have been game over after 30 minutes. Frustrated going forward.
Duncan Taylor 7: Difficult to judge as he made errors but showed more heart than anyone else. Excellent rip at ruck showed he was up for the fight. Always looked to carry, let down once by a knock on, one of three turnovers. Ten tackles.
Tommy Seymour 4: Anonymous, despite making third most metres (25) via three runs and beating one defender. Overawed.
Stuart Hogg 7: Had pace to beat Conway easily, won a turnover to alleviate pressure. Always darting around trying to spark the Scots, no other player on the field made more runs (16).
Fraser Brown 6: Where was he for Conway’s try? Left blindside open as winger strolled over.
Darcy Graham 6: Livewire was thrown on to inject some life into his side, but it was too late.
Blade Thomson 6: New Zealand-born utility man got going with five carries and weighed in with seven tackles, missing none.
Simon Berghan 6: Two turnovers conceded in his 28 minutes on the pitch.
Ireland swept Scotland aside to start their 2019 Rugby World Cup in fine style, the Men in Green marching to a dominant 27-3 win in Yokohama.
Despite having designs on the Webb Ellis Cup, and at least targeting a first-ever trip to the semi-finals with their opponents are just concentrating on getting out of the group, Ireland were expected to be severely tested by their fellow home nation.
But it was a one-sided affair from the start as Ireland’s ferocious forwards dominated the first half, while staunch Irish defence kept the Dark Blues as they improved after the break.
The front five in-particular were on fire as James Ryan, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong barged over for first-half scores, with Andrew Conway crossing for a bonus point try in a second half that marked by a downpour.
Here is how we rated the Ireland players:
Cian Healy 7: Came into World Cup with injury cloud over head. A souped up terrier for the 50 minutes he was on the field.
Rory Best 7: How did he ground the ball while lying on his back and on top of a pile of bodies? Superb awareness from the skipper to start his Irish swansong. Missed just one tackle.
Tadhg Furlong 7: Bulldog prop bulldozed over as Ireland’s forwards ran riot. Scotland could not keep a leash on him, making nine tackles.
Iain Henderson 7: Ryan may be the poster boy but it was his lock partner’s barnstorming run that set up the opening score. Forced a turnover too on a busy afternoon.
James Ryan 8: Capped meteoric rise with try on World Cup debut. Giant lock was a handful throughout, carrying ball a team joint high 15 times and also joint leading Ireland with 14 tackles.
Peter O’Mahony 6: Stalwart only played 26 minutes as he was replaced following Furlong’s try. Ireland will sweat over his fitness.
Josh Van Der Flier 6: Completed 100 per cent of his 10 tackles but made only two metres. Game disrupted by injury.
CJ Stander 9: Burst into space looking for bonus point score inside 30 minutes, but no support. Kept driving holes through Scotland. Made third most metres in green and joint most runs.
Conor Murray 6: Sharp and alert from the off, passing was crisp. Took on kicking duties from half-back partner Sexton, knocking over one conversion but missing a penalty. Faded.
Johnny Sexton 5: Missed wide conversion, Murray took over, which could indicate an issue. Strangely on the periphery as forwards dominated.
Jacob Stockdale 6: Formidable forwards led the way, but his cute chip and chase almost led to a score. Immense tackle on Stuart Hogg as Scotland pressed for late try.
Bundee Aki 6: Tenacious, superb steal to set up early chance. Couple of brutish runs early on but then came off as HIA ruled him out for rest of the game.
Garry Ringrose 4: Couldn’t get going as he made only nine metres going forward and three passes, missed two tackles too.Chris Farrell was far more vibrant.
Andrew Conway 7: Poor start with a knock on under little pressure. Made up for it with kick, chase and tackle on Hogg. Then got into gear with a dangerous run down right wing. Capped his rise with an easy try.
Jordan Larmour 8: Confident early take under high ball, followed by a penetrating run. Then sprung up at a ruck to win a penalty. Made 69 metres from 11 runs as he looked menacing. Will first-choice Rob Kearney get back in?
Jack Conan 6: Busy early as he was used to cover Van der Flier and O’Mahony injuries. Solid rather than spectacular.
Chris Farrell 8: On for the concussed Aki. Used powerful frame to batter beleaguered Scots. Beautiful behind the back offload to McGrath. Charge through almost led to fifth score. Only Larmour made more metres than his 53.
Andrew Porter 6: Came on and got involved, without shining.
Luke McGrath 6: Busy when he was introduced, a smart offload and making 11 metres.
Tadhg Beirne 3: On the field barely 10 minutes before shown a yellow for killing the ball.
Jack Carty 6: Kicked an easy penalty, lively but little chance to strut stuff.
Dave Kilcoyne 7: Four runs from replacement prop as Ireland looked to sustain stranglehold. Five tackles.