Clinical Ireland batter Scots in Yokohama drizzle
YOKOHAMA –Top-ranked Ireland put aside their stuttering 2019 form with a clinical 27-3 victory over their main Pool A rivals Scotland to open their World Cup campaign in convincing style in Yokohama on Sunday.
Forwards James Ryan, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong all crossed in the first 25 minutes and winger Andrew Conway secured the bonus point with the fourth try in the second half, with a single Greig Laidlaw penalty all Scotland had to show.
There will be concern though that injury-prone flyhalf Johnny Sexton gave up kicking duties early on, and flanker Peter O'Mahony and centre Bundee Aki left early with head injuries. With the flat, unsuccessful defence of their 2018 Six Nations title still hanging over them, Ireland were desperate to get up and running quickly in Japan and did exactly that as the three early tries put them in total control.
Encouragingly for coach Joe Schmidt, the first two came from clean lineout ball, putting to bed some of the concerns over his team as well as his much-debated call to leave go-to jumper and caller Devin Toner at home. The opener on six minutes was all about the rampaging second-row pair of Iain Henderson and Ryan as Henderson's burst through the middle to set Ireland's utterly dominant pack up close to the Scottish line and it did not take long for Ryan to power his way over the line.
Ireland's second was a simpler forwards' effort with hooker Best following up another accurate throw near the Scottish line to mark his 121st test with a try.
The clear Scottish intent to test the aerial skills of the relatively inexperienced back three of Conway, Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale - forced upon Schmidt by minor injuries to Keith Earls and Rob Kearney - led to a couple of errors and helped Laidlaw get them on the board with a penalty. But it was all too easy for the Irish pack, which can be unstoppable under Schmidt if allowed to recycle possession. They obliged again as Furlong made it three tries from three forays into their opponents' 22 metres.
The long threatened rain held off until late into the first half, only galvanising Ireland's stranglehold on the game when the disappointing Scots tried to have a go early in the second half but were unable to get through Ireland's well organised defence.
The slippery surface ended the game as a spectacle, not that it mattered to the sea of green around Yokohama's International Stadium as the travelling Irish fans drowned out the faint sound of Scottish bagpipes.
They had one more try to cheer before the end as Conway added the bonus point just before the hour. By that stage scrumhalf Conor Murray had assumed kicking duties and a not-noticeably injured Sexton then left the park, testing Ireland's already depleted squad.
With Ireland's impressive pack likely to have too much in six days time for a Japanese eight who were troubled up front by Russia in their opener, Schmidt can effectively already start to prepare for an expected quarter-final against South Africa.
The consolation prize for Scotland, if they can negotiate their way out of the pool, will almost certainly be a last eight encounter with holders New Zealand.Reuters