Rugby World CupMatch Report

Ireland 59 Tonga 16: Ireland gather further momentum with impressive bonus-point win

Rugby World Cup, Pool B: Andy Farrell will be happy with seeing his side rack up a 15th successive win ahead of the vital meeting with South Africa

Ireland 59 Tonga 16

Not that we should ever have doubted him, and nor was he seeking vindication for wanting his frontline team to generate more form, but Andy Farrell’s selection strategies invariably work out.

And so it was again, on another sauna like occasion in Brittany, as this team extended the Irish record to 15 successive victories with their 27th win in their last 29 Test matches.

“I understand why people have an opinion but we make calculated decisions based on the facts that we’ve got and what’s best for our team,” said Farrell.

“So I don’t think I need to vindicate myself in what decision we make. The right thing for our team is to get that little bit of continuity, get more game time and get the job done and get people off at the right time etc.”


Ireland now move on to their Pool B-defining – perhaps World Cup-defining – clash with the Springboks in Paris next Saturday night with the kind of rhythm and momentum they developed in New Zealand last year and in their Grand Slam campaign.

Tonga flew out of the blocks as anticipated before gradually wilting as expected. Yes, the Tongans generated three turnovers in the first quarter when Ireland perhaps set their carriers up as targets, but that goes with the territory of being a ball-in-hand attacking team.

Ireland stayed true to themselves, and at times brilliantly. They countered the outside-in rush defence which is de rigeur at this World Cup by making one or two passes out and then passing back inside where they flooded the channels with runners.

This was how Sexton unlocked the Tongans by fizzing a skip pass inside for the charging Caelan Doris, and Tadhg Beirne was on hand for the breakthrough try.

After a welcome maul try and some x-factor from Mack Hansen, similarly the bonus point try emanated from a second dummy and break by the rejuvenated Conor Murray, before he fed Bundee Aki on his inside; Garry Ringrose providing the link for Sexton to score.

“It’s so fitting that he broke the record with a try like that,” said Farrell of Sexton’s landmark score. which saw him eclipse Ronan O’Gara’s Irish record of 1,083 points. After his brace last week, it was also Sexton’s 18th try for his country, placing him joint eighth on that list.

“I’ve said it to Johnny in front of the lads in there, he can talk for himself, but the record is fantastic. He’d say that’s his job, but it takes some doing. To us, as a leader, as a player, he’s a lot more than a points-scoring machine for Ireland. How he prepares his team and gets them up for every single game is more important to him and certainly to us.”

Sexton certainly celebrated as if he knew the notable landmark he had achieved, but apparently not so, more his joy in scoring tries.

“I think one of the lads said it to me under the posts and I actually thought I had got it on the kick before. It’s something when you retire and finish, you can look back and be proud. I think my little [Luca] will be over the moon.

“He was talking about it during the week and it probably means more to him. He’ll chase it down now,” quipped Sexton, “and so will the other 10s. It’s there to be broken now and I’m sure some young guys will be eyeing it up.

“Look, I’m very proud to do it but tonight was more about getting the win and moving onto what’s such a massive game now this week.”

Critical to the Irish attack, the lineout was back to its best, with plenty of variation, be it mostly off-the-top ball or scoring off one of their drives. It was great to see Ronan Kelleher back to his best, which will likely mean he starts against the Boks.

The scrum also looked solid, and although losing Finlay Bealham within eight minutes of the restart was a shame, Tadhg Furlong looked full of power and energy in his 72-minute shift, as was the excellent Andrew Porter.

The relief in seeing Robbie Henshaw come through over half-an-hour was palpable, not least for himself.

“Yeah, absolutely, [in] the last two World Cups, I’ve had to miss the first couple of games due to hamstring issues. So, it was like ‘Not again!’. But thankfully I was in good hands with the physios and the medical team. They eased my worries fairly early on and I was back training fully during the week. It was brilliant.”

But as Henshaw is fully aware, his old Connacht sidekick Bundee Aki is playing the rugby of his life. With his explosiveness and footwork, and reference point in the attack, his fitness, like his stats (19 carries for 80 metres, 10 defenders beaten, two clean breaks and two tries) look ridiculous. Aki was a deserving man of the match, as he should have been last week.

“He’s absolutely flying,” admitted Henshaw. “He is playing class stuff. I’m delighted to be here and support him as well. Himself and Ringer are going really well, so I’m delighted for them.”

Indeed, collectively and individually, they also look fitter than they did in New Zealand or during the Grand Slam campaign. This is as true of the Thirtysomethings as anyone else.

“I feel in great shape,” admitted the 34-year-old Conor Murray, praising the work of fitness trainers Jason Cowman and Ciaran Ruddock, the use of saunas in pre-season on top of warm weather camps, and the emphasis on rugby specific training from the outset.

Now the heat ratchets up, figuratively.

“You’ll be buzzing,” admitted Murray. “With nerves, of course. The usual stuff. You’d be afraid if they weren’t there.

“Playing the world champs in Paris, if that doesn’t get you excited, or even like tonight, when you’re listening to that atmosphere, one of the lads said it ‘If you can’t enjoy this, then why are you here?’”

Scoring sequence: 7 mins Sexton pen 3-0; 16 mins Havili pen 3-3; 21 mins Beirne try, Sexton con 10-3; 24 mins Havili pen 10-6; 27 mins Doeis try, Swexton con 17-6; 33 mins Hansen try, Sexton con 24-6; 38 mins Sexton try and con 31-6; 40 (+8) mins V Fifita try, Havili con 31-13 (half-time); 43 mins Havili pen 31-16; 59 mins Lowe try, Byrne con 38-16; 63 mins Aki try, Byrne con 45-16; 69 mins Aki try, Byrne con 52-16; 80 mins Herring try, Byrne con 59-16.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD); Mack Hansen (Connacht/Corinthians), Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD), Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians), James Lowe (Leinster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College)(captain), Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen); Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD), Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf), Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne), James Ryan (Leinster/UCD, Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution), Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD), Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) for Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) for Porter, Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) for Furlong, Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) for Sexton (all half-time), Furlong for Bealham (48 mins), Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) for Ryan, Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) for Ringrose (both 48 mins), Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) for (52 mins), Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) for Murray (56 mins).

TONGA: Salesi Piutau (Shizuoka Blue Revs); Afusipa Taumoepeau (Perpignan), Malakai Fekitoa (Treviso), Pita Ahki (Toulouse), Solomone Kata (Leicester Tigers); William Havili (Moana Pasifika), Augustine Pulu (Hino Red Dolphins); Siegfried Fisi’ihoi (Pau), Paula Ngauamo (Castres), Ben Tameifuna (Bordeaux, captain), Sam Lousi (Scarlets), Halaleva Fifita (Oyannax), Tanginoa Halaifonua (Stade Francais), Sione Talitui (Crusaders), Vaea Fifita (Scarlets).

Replacements: Sonatane Takul (Agen) for Pulu (half-time), Solomone Funaki (Moana Pasifika) for Halaifonua (46 mins), Sam Moli (Moana Pasifika) for Ngauamo (50 mins), Sione Vailanu (Glasgow Warriors) for V Fifita, Tau Koloamatangi (Moana Pasifika) for Fisi’ihoi (both 61 mins), Sosefo Apikotoa (Moana Pasifika) for Tameifuna (68 mins). Not used: Semisi Paea (New England Free Jacks), Fine Inisi (Moana Pasifika).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times