DAVID BARNES in YOKOHAMA
IRELAND delivered a brutal lesson in what big time rugby looks and feels like. They battered Scotland up-front and exposed their naivety behind in the process of helping themselves to three first half tries – all scored by tight-five forwards – which killed the game as a contest by the 26th minute.
A fourth try in the second half secured the bonus point win for the men in green, while it felt like the boys in blue could have played all week without scoring.
The big question now from a Scottish perspective is: how will Gregor Townsend’s team recover from this physical and psychological battering before taking on Samoa a week on Monday? There was a real sense of optimism permeating from the squad during the build-up to this match, and what happened here will have shaken them to their core. They are not as good a team as they thought they were, and there is now a very real danger that this World Cup campaign could unravel.
Yesterday’s Premiership results –
Ireland took the lead in the sixth minute when Iain Henderson burst onto a pop from the base of a ruck and swept past some pedestrian defending from Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist. Stuart Hogg managed to down the marauding Irishman, but a few phases later James Ryan scrambled over from close range, with Johnny Sexton adding the conversion.
They powered to their second score on 14 minutes when Sexton kicked a penalty to the corner, and a heaving mass of green jerseys powered Rory Best over the chalk. A subsequent replay on the big screen suggested that the Irish captain may not have got the ball down under pressure from opposite number McInally, but referee Wayne Barnes insisted that the TMO had checked the footage and assured him that everything was in order to award the score.
Scotland rallied briefly with some quick, brave hands in midfield outflanking Ireland’s rush defence to create gap on the right for Tommy Seymour to have a go. Ireland scrambled back but gave away a penalty at a subsequent ruck which Laidlaw turned into three points.
An excellent long diagonal from Finn Russell caught out Jacob Stockdale and pinned Ireland back inside their 22 almost straight from the restart, but, just as they were beginning to build up a head of steam, Scotland fumbled as they tried to work an intricate play in midfield from quick line-out ball. Ireland hacked ahead, Hogg got back first but the ball rebounded off the post meaning the Scottish full-back ended up being bundled over his own line and forced into conceding a scrum-five. Ireland turned the screw, CJ Stander had a massive carry off the base and Tadhg Furlong powered over a few phases later.
It looked like the wheels had come off when Stander picked up at the base of a ruck in the middle of the park and found he had been presented with a huge gap to gallop through, but fortunately Ireland conceded a penalty at the subsequent ruck which allowed Hogg to clear to halfway, and Townsend’s team lived to fight another day.
But the pressure didn’t relent. Sam Johnson did well to get back to make a try-saving tackle on Stockdale after the Irish winger made good ground off first phase scrum ball on the blindside with a chip-and chase.
Scotland then suffered another major setback with just three minutes of the half left when Hamish Watson hurt his knee at a ruck and had to be stretchered from the field. The openside flanker is a crucial member of this team and will be a big miss if the injury is as serious as it seemed at the time.
Ireland had an opportunity to extend their lead just before the break when WP Nel was penalised for collapsing a scrum, but with Sexton over on the touchline taking on some water, Conor Murray pulled his 40-metre shot at goal to the left of the posts. The much-anticipated Typhoon Tapah arrived during the interval, but Scotland’s spirits were already dampened as much as they could be.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first had ended, with Ireland mugging Scotland at a ruck in midfield and Andrew Conway almost managing to get a hand to a kicked-through ball ahead of Hogg in the dead-ball area. Fortunately for Scotland, the winger couldn’t assert downward pressure.
It took until the 56th minute before Ireland struck again to secure the bonus-point try, when Conway pressurised Ryan Wilson as he tried to collect Murray’s towering box-kick, Jordan Lamour picked up the loose ball, and Murray sent Conway jinking home.
Jack Carty, on for Sexton, knocked over an offside penalty after Ireland had once again made good ground from first phase scrum ball.
Ireland were home and hosed, but their competitive instinct was unrelenting, as was demonstrated when Tadhg Beirne sacrificed himself to a yellow card on 64 minutes for killing the ball after a rare moment of Scottish lucidity saw replacement centre Chris Harris thread Hogg through a gap.
Scotland set up camp in the Irish 22 during their period with an extra man but couldn’t get any change from Ireland’s fully-committed defence. There was still no backing off from the men in green, they were even steeling line-out possession on their own line. Scotland, meanwhile, were out of ideas and just desperate for the misery to be over.
Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki (C Farrell 20), J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carty 56), C Murray (L McGrath 56); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 49), R Best, T Furlong (A Porter 49), I Henderson (T Beirne 56), J Ryan, P O’Mahony (J van der Flier 31, N Scannell 73), J van der Flier (J Conan 23), C Stander.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour (D Graham 56), D Taylor (C Harris 65), S Johnson, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw (A Price 60); A Dell (G Reid 61), S McInally, W Nel (S Berghan 52), G Gilchrist, J Gray (S Cummings 65), J Barclay (B Thomson 52), H Watson (F Brown 37), R Wilson.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Ireland: Tries: Ryan, Best, Furlong; Con: Sexton 2; Pen: Carty.
Scotland: Pen: Laidlaw.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 12-3; 17-3; 19-3 (h-t) 24-3; 27-3.
Yellow cards –