Rugby World CupMatch Report

Ireland put Scotland to the sword to set up World Cup quarter-final with New Zealand

Andy Farrell’s side ran in four tries in the first half to put the contest to bed

Ireland 36 Scotland 14

Truly, never in doubt. Ireland easily skipped past this banana skin, underlining the chasm that exists between these two sides to send the Scots home to think again, securing the bonus point, a ninth win in a row over their Celtic rivals and first place in Pool B effectively by half-time. Ruthless. Utterly ruthless, and how the engaged Green Army loved it.

With this, as expected, Ireland set up a repeat of the World Cup quarter-final four years ago, which the All Blacks won 46-14, back here in their new home from home at the same time next Saturday night. But that was a good Irish side playing badly, this one is even better, with 17 wins in a row, and is hitting its best form at the right time. It looks like being a monumental quarter-final, and ditto the meeting of France and South Africa the following night in the Stade de France.

Once the jeopardy was gone from the contest, the performance tapered off and hence if anything the scoreline flattered Scotland, for this was like watching a cat toy with a mouse. As if wanting to prove a point as well as secure five more, Ireland beat Scotland in every department, not giving them an inch in scrum or mauls, soaking up all their best shots with disciplined defensive sets, and filleting through the precision of their strike plays and multiphase attacks, as well as their power game.

Ireland’s lineout purred smoothly, and Johnny Sexton pulled the strings, some of the handling between backs and forwards, short and long passes, tip-ons and switchbacks, the work-rate off the ball and the variety was of a different league to the Scots, as was their battery of big carriers.

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Pool B table

This was a performance of precision, energy and complete confidence and belief in one another, and such is the collective levels of fitness that the work-rate in attack was matched by that in defence, and willingness to keep getting back to their feet.

Outstanding individual performances abounded, Josh van der Flier was off the charts, with Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson (his selection vindicated), Peter O’Mahony and Caelan Doris and the pack doing a number on the Scots.

Admittedly, the win may have come at a cost, for Mack Hansen was removed in the first half permanently, as within a minute of completing an HIA he went off due to a calf injury. James Lowe also departed during the interval but this was due to friendly fire in the shape of a finger in the eye from team-mate Tadhg Beirne, while James Ryan suffered a wrist injury, all of which Andy Farrell said afterwards would need to be assessed.

Needless to say, this is such a well-oiled machine that Garry Ringrose underlined his understated value to this team by seamlessly switching to first the right and then the left wing. Conor Murray came on for Lowe, with Jamison Gibson-Park – who was much more like his true self – moving to the wing, where he was actually quite lively.

The 50-60,000 Green Army roared a deafening din when O’Mahony led the team out and the men in green duly roared out of the blocks. The game was only 63 seconds and the first rendition of the Fields was interrupted by the first Irish try.

Hugo Keenan started it, initially running back an Ali Price box kick form Sexton’s kick-off. Four phases later, Sexton passed behind Beirne before Ringrose dummied and accelerated inside the wafting arm of Grant Gilchrist to give his fullback a smooth finish.

As critical as this opening blow to the Scottish guts was the relative assuredness with which Ireland repelled waves of attacks from three consecutive penalties into the corner, always staying connected and never running out of numbers when Finn Russell went wide or swept back to the blindside.

With their defensive maul not conceding an inch either, the pick was the defensive set off the third penalty to the corner through 19 phases, driving Scotland back to the 22-metre line. This was typified by the huge double hit on Pierre Schoeman by O’Mahony and Beirne, before a counter-ruck by Doris led to Price knocking on. You could almost hear Scotland’s deflation.

Scotland lost James Ritchie, with Russell taking over the captaincy, after those two combined to prevent Hansen finishing from O’Mahony’s lovely line on to Sexton’s pass and offload. Hansen would soon depart, with Stuart McCloskey coming on for his World Cup debut, with Aki and Ringrose shifting to outside centre and wing.

Ringrose, after he trapped Russell’s crosskick to gain an attacking throw with his kick and chase, then seamlessly assumed Hansen’s role when coming across to midfield from the wing when Dan Sheehan hit Beirne with his throw.

Van der Flier fed Gibson-Park before Sexton wrapped around Henderson and Aki stormed on to his short pass to free his arms and offload to Ringrose, for Hansen to give Keenan a smooth 30-metre finish to the corner, and this time Sexton converted.

Porter, putting in another massive shift, won a turnover penalty after O’Mahony’s chop tackle on George Turner, and Aki made a fine tackle on Huw Jones, before Ireland went to the corner and went to their power game. Gibson-Park fed Doris and Beirne twice each in turn either side of the ruck before Henderson reached out for the line.

The bonus point was secured before half-time after a procession of carries and penalties in the red zone and, with another advantage, Sexton stepped in to first receiver and floated a pass for Keenan to take a leaping catch and the tackles of both Duhan van der Merwe and Matt Fagerson to score superbly.

Soon after the resumption, Ollie Smith sparked a push from Sexton and an all-in exchange full of shirt tugging and lip, with a needless trip after the ball and the whistle. Smith was binned but George Turner, for sprinting in to kick things off, and Schoeman, for shunting Sheehan over an advertising hoarding, could have been carded again.

This also served to galvanise Ireland off the ensuing lineout and charge up the middle by Aki, Gibson-Park jinking on the right wing from Keenan’s pass and then sweeping across to give Sheehan the chance to beat Russell’s tackle and score in the corner.

With that, job long since done, Sexton was withdrawn from his last match against Scottish opposition, and 15th win in 14 years, to a hero’s reception, as the bench was emptied.

The Fields were again the backdrop to another ferocious defensive set, McCloskey emptying Jack Dempsey, before they went try hunting again; Ringrose gathering Jack Crowley’s delicious kick pass on the full to score.

After a big carry by Demspey, Sione Tuipulotu put Ewan Ashman over for a try that was quickly followed by Jones breaking out from the restart between Aki and Gibson-Park before Smith put Price over.

They had the ever faithful Scottish fans in full voice, and were celebrated on and off the field in a manner that suggested they mattered more than they did. For Ireland, they were more an irritant, as was Finlay Bealham’s burrowing finish being over-ruled as Dave Kilcoyne had lost the ball fractionally forward.

No matter. This had been a ruthless dissection of their would-be Celtic rivals. Cue Zombie and another lap of appreciation, led by O’Mahony and two of his kids, Indie and Theo. Most stayed to drink it all in before another Irish Saturday party late into the Parisian night. Not the first time, and maybe not the last.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins: Lowe try, 5-0; 26: Keenan try, Sexton con, 12-0; 32: Henderson try, Sexton con, 19-0; 39: Keenan try, Sexton con 26-0; (half-time 26-0); 44: Sheehan try, 31-0; 58: Ringrose try, 36-0; 64: Ashman try, Russell con, 36-7; 66: Price try, Russell con, 36-14.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Iain Henderson (Ulster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) for Hansen (22-32 mins & 35 mins); Conor Murray (Munster) for Lowe (40+1); Jack Crowley (Munster) for Sexton (45); Ronan Kelleher (Leinster) for Sheehan; Dave Kilcoyne (Munster) for Porter; Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Furlong; James Ryan (Leinster) for Beirne; Jack Conan (Leinster) for O’Mahony (all 49).

SCOTLAND: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Ritchie, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey.

Replacements: Ollie Smith for Kinghorn (8 mins); Matt Fagerson for Ritchie (19); Scott Cummings for Gilchrist (45); George Horne for Graham (50); Rory Sutherland for Schoeman (53), Ewan Ashman for Turner (59), WP Nel for Z Fagerson (60), Luke Crosbie for Darge (65)

Yellow card: Ollie Smith (42 mins).

Referee: Nic Berry (Aus).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times