Tokyo: A dominant display by Ireland’s forwards earned them an impressive bonus-point Rugby World Cup win over Celtic rivals Scotland on Sunday.
The emphatic 27-3 Pool A win underscored Ireland’s status as one of the pre-tournament favourites and sent out a message to southern hemisphere challengers New Zealand and Australia, who both won on Saturday.
World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton answered his critics after a worrying dip in form as Ireland shrugged off injuries to key players in their back line to seize the initiative in a tight group.
But it was the tight five forwards who broke Scotland’s resistance, with pushover tries in the first half from lock James Ryan, prop Tadhg Furlong and hooker Rory Best.
Scotland had lost six of the previous seven games against the Irish but scented an upset in Yokohama as coach Gregor Townsend named the most experienced Test team in Scottish rugby history with an astounding 630 caps in the starting XV.
But heavy rain in Yokohama hampered Scotland’s handling as their backs studded with British and Irish Lions failed to fire.
“I think we started really well. We were positive. We wanted to attack. Obviously with the conditions in the second half, it became more of an arm wrestle but we know how good a team they are and we’re delighted with the win,” said skipper Best.
“That was a good start for us but we know … how much we need to improve going forwards.”
There was some concern that Sexton gave up kicking duties early on, and flanker Peter O’Mahony and centre Bundee Aki left early with head injuries, but coach Joe Schmidt said Sexton was fine and that the other two were symptom-free. Scotland also lost flanker Hamish Watson to a serious-looking injury.
“I was delighted with the first half, I think we really put some pressure on, defensively as well as in attack,” Schmidt said in a pitchside interview.
“I think they [Scotland] are a team that will be very, very hard to bowl later in the tournament and maybe we just got them early enough that they hadn’t quite hit their straps.”