RWC 2019 Pool Game 6: Ireland lay down marker as Scotland fall short

Ireland have laid down a marker for their tournament credentials with a clinically efficient and ruthless 27-3 victory over Scotland in Yokohama.

The number one ranked side in the world – if you pay attention to the dubious rankings system – came into the tournament with more than a few questions hanging in the air as to their current status, off the back of some indifferent displays in both the the Six Nations and pre-World Cup warm-up matches. But this was an effort that brought back memories of their pomp in 2018, when an all-conquering side claimed a Grand Slam and defeated the All Blacks.

All the hallmarks of precision, control, execution and discipline that were on display during that standout year were in evidence again here, while the struggling set-piece and under-fire captain Rory Best both performed admirably to quieten the doubters. On this showing, they will take some stopping on the road to a likely Quarter-Final against South Africa.

For Scotland however, it was a night to forget. Tryless, outplayed, outmuscled and out-thought, and with the added negative of seeing arguably their most influential player in Hamish Watson carried off on a stretcher. The only way is up, and fast.

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The expected downpour in the Japanese capital didn’t eventuate, but the opening exchanges still went largely to script with Scotland running from everywhere and Ireland keen to exact some semblance of control over proceedings, and it was the world no.1 side who got their noses in front early on.

A line break from Iain Henderson got them within range, and the supporting Jordan Larmour was held up just short. But after a barrage of pick and drives to soften the Scottish defence, lock James Ryan was driven over with a bit of help from Cian Healy to open the scoring, and Johnny Sexton added the extras.

Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg did their best to try and ignite a Scottish response, but Ireland were competing well at the breakdown and forcing turnovers, Bundee Aki a menace in particular. And after a penalty got them back inside the opposition 22 on 14 minutes, Ireland’s much-maligned lineout executed well to kick-start a rolling maul, that ended with skipper Rory Best twisting on the floor and just about scraping the chalk for try number two.

Scotland finally worked their way into the red zone off a trademark dash from winger Tommy Seymour. And when Ireland were pinged for not rolling away a couple of phases later, Greig Laidlaw got them on the board through his reliable boot.

But they were soon back in front of their own posts when a loose pass was kicked upfield by Andrew Conway, and Hogg was pinned in-goal to give Ireland a five-metre scrum platform. They used it to full advantage, Scotland’s goal-line defence in question once again as Tadhg Furlong smashed his way across the chalk to help forge a daunting 19-3 advantage.

The only concern for anyone of an emerald green persuasion, was the sight of Conor Murray slotting the conversion while Sexton received treatment to a leg injury. The importance of the reigning World Player of the Year to Ireland’s chances had been underlined in bold prior to the tournament, so his return to the driving seat after the restart made for welcome viewing.

They could have had another before the break, Jacob Stockdale chipping and regathering down the sideline with aplomb before pinning back the ears, only for a last-ditch tackle from Sam Johnson, and a terrific counter-ruck from Russell and John Barclay to win possession back for the Scots.

A missed penalty from Murray then gave them another let-off before both sides headed to the sheds. But that was after things had already taken a significant turn for the worse for Scotland when star flanker Hamish Watson was forced from the field – and possibly the World Cup – with a nasty-looking knee injury.

A misty rain that descended on Yokohama Stadium during the interval turned into a heavier downpour as the second half started. Which made Scotland’s chances of a comeback less than favourable if you factor in their desire for expansive play at pace when compared to Ireland’s – and Sexton’s – ability to manage a process-driven game – particularly with a three-score buffer.

But it was the Scots who went close after adopting a more pragmatic approach. Stuart Hogg put a nice touch-finder in to force Rory Best to throw in under pressure in his own 22, and when Scotland numbered up to turnover the ensuing maul it kick-started multiple pick and drive phases that rumbled them promisingly forward, only for John Barclay to drop the slippery pill cold 10 metres out.

And they paid the price for such profligacy in the 55th minute. An inch-perfect box kick from Murray inside the Scottish 22 fell loose for Jordan Larmour to carry into traffic, and with defenders sucked into contact, Murray was back on hand to fire it wide for Conway to step his way over for the bonus point try.

Job seemingly well done, that was the cue for Ireland coach Joe Schmidt to wrap his halfbacks Murray and Sexton up in cotton wool for future battles, with Luke McGrath and Jack Carty joining the fray. And the two replacements soon combined to create what would have been a glorious score, Carty taking a pass from the scrumhalf to put a cheeky kick in behind for Chris Farrell, who scooped up and produced a one-handed reverse offload for the supporting McGrath, only for the final pass to the waiting Stockdale to fall to the floor after a terrific tackle from Darcy Graham.

Scotland’s belief – and scrum – began to crumble alarmingly as the ‘green machine’ fully clicked into gear with a quarter of the contest still remaining. Carty was having fun with front-foot ball, and he piled on the misery as Ireland’s third kicker off the tee of the match, with another 3pts when the Scots strayed offside.

They got an all-too late lifeline when Tadhg Berne was sent to the bin for playing the ball on the floor, after Stuart Hogg had made good metres into the red zone. But again they were unable to maintain their composure with the line in sight, a neatly worked lineout play coming unstuck when Ireland muscled up to win the turnover and clear the danger.

That was the MO for the last 10 minutes, Scotland repeatedly getting themselves in position to strike, and repeatedly wasting the opportunity with a loose carry, sloppy pass or bad decision. All the while under duress thanks to the blanket of green that swamped their every move.

It finished 27-3, Scotland looking all the more likely to be facing a showdown with the hosts in the final pool clash for a place in the knockout stages. Ireland meanwhile will have silenced a lot of doubters with this display, much more akin to the vintage taste of 2018, than the slightly on the turn flavours previously offered up across this calendar year. It was certainly a performance to make the All Blacks and Springboks sit up and take notice ahead of the finals.

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IRELAND 27 (James Ryan, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Conway tries; Johnny Sexton con, Conor Murray con, Jack Carty pen) defeated SCOTLAND 3 (Greig Laidlaw pen) HT 19-3 at Yokohama Stadium

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