Ireland came into the Rugby World Cup as the world’s number one team and the 2018 Grand Slam champions lived up to their billing with a 27-3 victory over Scotland in Yokohama.
Joe Schmidt’s team might not have enjoyed the same success in 2019 that they did the previous year, but they showed in this encounter that they will be a force to be reckoned with in Japan.
From the moment Iain Henderson burst into the Scottish 22 in the sixth minute, leading to a try for lock partner James Ryan, Ireland never looked back.
For Scotland, looking to improve on a fifth-placed finish in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, this was a tough afternoon in which they had conceded three tries with barely 25 minutes on the clock.
After Ryan it was skipper Rory Best and tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong who powered over as Ireland simply overwhelmed their opponents.
In the second half, as the rain came down, Andrew Conway chipped in with the fourth try, securing the bonus point. And that was all Ireland needed to round off a convincing opening success.
OFF TO A FLYER
Ireland flew out of the blocks, Conor Murray putting Scotland under pressure with a clever chip into the 22 that was well gathered by Jonny Gray.
Gregor Townsend’s team were left with no option but to kick clear though, and when touch was missed, back came Ireland with Henderson striding through.
Stuart Hogg did well to stop him but it did not matter as Ryan forced his way over from close range. Johnny Sexton converted and Ireland were up and running.
The second followed soon after, Ireland turning down a shot at goal to kick to the corner and earning their reward as Scotland had no answer to the rolling maul, Best the man to dot down in his swansong tournament.
Scotland replied through a Greig Laidlaw penalty and looked to be building something when a loose pass was hacked forward by Conway. His boot rebounded off the post, with Hogg forced to collect and pushed over his own line.
From the resulting five-metre scrum, Ireland got the nudge and two phases later Furlong was over, Murray taking on kicking duties and making no mistake to make it 19-3.
They could have had a fourth when CJ Stander burst through a gaping hole around the fringes on halfway, Hogg again putting his body on the line to make the tackle.
And there was another slight let-off at the end of the half as Sexton missed a conversion from about 40 metres out after a big Irish shove in the scrum.
To make matters worse for Scotland, they lost flanker Hamish Watson to a serious-looking knee injury in the latter stages of the first half, replaced by Fraser Brown, filling in at openside.
CLINCHING MAXIMUM POINTS
Ireland nearly had their bonus point early in the second half, turning the ball over around halfway and then pouring down the right. The ball was chipped over the top but as Conway raced to try to beat Hogg to dot down, he pushed the full-back and was penalised.
Conway did not have to wait for long though, proving the beneficiary as Scotland failed to deal with a high ball under the floodlights and the pouring rain. Jordan Larmour collected it and had a quick dart and as the ball was quickly recycled, Conway was able to slip inside one would-be tackler and dive over. Murray’s conversion attempt was off-target but Ireland had their bonus point.
Jack Carty added a penalty with 12 minutes remaining, although immediately after Scotland showed real threat for almost the first time as Hogg scorched through. He was brought down in the 22, with Tadhg Beirne shown yellow as he went in for the turnover from the wrong side. Even with 14, the Ireland defence held as the slippery ball squirted free at a breakdown after the five-metre scrum.
WHAT COMES NEXT
This victory puts Ireland in prime position in Pool A, with a clash against hosts Japan up next in Shizuoka. Win that and they can start dreaming of the quarter-finals and topping the group.
Scotland, meanwhile, will have to lick their wounds and make the most of the eight-day break before they take on Samoa in Kobe. They will absolutely have to win that one to keep their own last-eight hopes very much alive and kicking, with the Brave Blossoms waiting for them in the final pool game back at this stadium.
Scotland found themselves in a big hole early when they conceded two tries, but looked to be regathering themselves with a Laidlaw penalty and a clever kick over the top by Russell that Stockdale could only help into touch. With a good lineout in the Ireland 22, Scotland looked in good position to build a real platform in the game. Instead the ball went to ground in midfield, Conway hacked through and while Hogg easily won the race back for the ball, it cannoned back off the post forcing him to concede the five-metre scrum rather than the 22 drop-out. From there Ireland were not going to be stopped, Furlong’s try making it 19-3.
Rory Best will call time on his rugby career at the end of this tournament so you can be sure he wanted to kick it off with an impressive performance. Under pressure in the lineout during Ireland’s warm-up matches, he had no such struggles here as Ireland won 12 from 12 and he played the full 80 minutes. He also showed clever hands on a couple of occasions in the lead-up to Ireland’s first try, while he was the man who got the ball down for the second. On a good day for Ireland, the form of their captain was perhaps the most pleasing aspect.