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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ireland 27 – 3 Scotland

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Ruthless Ireland franked their status as the world’s top-ranked side with a clinical Rugby World Cup victory against a meek Scotland in Yokohama.

The Irish went over in their first two incursions into the Scottish 22, James Ryan and Rory Best ploughing over to put them 12-0 ahead after 15 minutes.

Greig Laidlaw got the Scots on the board, but a wretched bounce led to Tadhg Furlong adding a third try before the half was out. Andrew Conway then crossed after the break to secure Ireland’s bonus point.

Ireland play hosts Japan on Saturday next, with Scotland facing Samoa two days later.

Hosts Japan won the first match in Pool A on Friday, defeating Russia 30-10, with the Samoans yet to play.

‘Ireland too physical, too canny, too good’

Ireland have won many games against Scotland – five out of six in the Joe Schmidt era – but none bigger than this and not many as thoroughly emphatic either. Schmidt’s team turned up in a major way, driving into the guts of their opponents pretty much from the get-go.

It would be an exaggeration to say the Irish are a contender at the World Cup on the back of this, but they’ve certainly accelerated away from the dog days of the Six Nations and the pitiful shellacking at England’s hands at Twickenham in the warm-up campaign.

Scotland, though, delivered the square root of not a lot. No belligerence, no anger at getting bullied. They were routed pure and simple.

The Scots have a desperate propensity for conceding tries early in games. That failing didn’t start when Gregor Townsend took over as coach but it’s intensified – and here that weakness struck again inside just six minutes. What Townsend would have been looking for would have been a first quarter of control. What he got was a first quarter from his nightmares and Schmidt’s dreams.

It was humid but Ireland’s beginning was white hot. The first score had its origins in Iain Henderson bullocking his way into Scotland’s 22, evading the tackles of Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist. Getting in behind the underdogs was half the job done. A few recycles later, the thing was completed when the towering Ryan stuck his nose to the floor and drove over. Johnny Sexton converted. Ireland were on their way.

Ireland were winning every physical battle and practically every breakdown. There was a huge illustration of their confidence after quarter of an hour when Sexton said ‘no, thanks’ to a kickable penalty and bashed his kick into touch instead. In going for the Scottish jugular, they didn’t miss.

Henderson, bruising and quite brilliant, soared to catch and when the rumble went over the line it was Best who got the touch down. There was a question as to whether he had full control of the ball, but the try stood and it was almost poetic that it was the captain who got it.

Rugby Fixtures

Best has had a miserable 2019, a year when his 37 years seem to be catching up without him. He appeared to be panting and wheezing his way towards retirement. This, though, was a big day for the captain.

And a big day for his team. Though Laidlaw made it 12-3 just after the first quarter, it was a mere crumb in comparison to Ireland’s feast, a third try coming soon after. The kick to Scotland’s solar plexus was that it came off one of their own attacks, when the ball came bouncing off Tommy Seymour’s body only to be hacked downfield.

Hogg got back to rescue it under his sticks but was driven back over his own line. Scrum Ireland. Off went CJ Stander from the base and, in quick order, over went Furlong amid a ruck of bodies. All the boys in green must have been scratching their heads at how easy it all was out there.

Conor Murray missed the conversion, the scrum-half filling in on the goal-kicking front for Sexton, who was moving gingerly after coming in for a bit of treatment from the Scottish forwards. Briefly discomforting the fly-half was about their only achievement all evening.

Ireland found space with ease against a team with a shocking lack of bite. Stander made a gallop up the middle and made 30 metres in one moment. Jacob Stockdale chipped and gathered and made even more ground shortly after. Ireland were 16 points clear and it told a false picture of how dominant they really were.

Before the break there was more calamity for the Scots when their best forward, Hamish Watson, was taken off on a stretcher in clear distress. Another grim moment on a grim day for Townsend’s weirdly passive side.

As the rain started to fall more steadily, Ireland took an even firmer grip on things. Just before the hour-mark they struck for their bonus point try to all but guarantee top spot in their pool and a probable quarter-final with the Springboks, a game that can’t look as daunting to them now as it might have done a while back.

Conway, filling in for the absent Keith Earls, got it. Murray’s precise box kick was not dealt with by Ryan Wilson in his own 22. Jordan Larmour, filling in excellently for the injured Rob Kearney, picked it up and shipped it back to Murray, who put Conway away. The wing stepped around the last defender to finish with aplomb.

The scrum-half missed the conversion, not that it mattered. The next time an Irishman had a pot at goal, Jack Carty was on the field and he made no mistake. A 24-point game now. No contest.

Scotland finally managed to get some possession late on long after the fight was over. Tadhg Beirne came on to the field as a replacement and then went off again for killing ball under his own posts. The Scots put a line-out to touch and tried to work a fancy one at the front, which was defended well.

They then tried to move it out the line but Ireland weren’t having any of that either. Josh van der Flier ended the attack quite ruthlessly. That single moment could serve as a microcosm of the day. Ireland were too physical, too canny, too good. Far, far too good.

Teams

Scotland: Hogg; Seymour, Taylor, Johnson, Maitland; Russell, Laidlaw; Dell, McInally (captain), Nel, Gilchrist, Gray, Barclay, Watson, Wilson.

Replacements: Brown, Reid, Berghan, Cummings, Thomson, Price, Harris, Graham.

Ireland: Larmour; Conway, Ringrose, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best (captain), Furlong; Henderson, Ryan; O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Stander.

Replacements: Scannell, Kilcoyne, Porter, Beirne, Conan, McGrath, Carty, Farrell.

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