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Ireland fly out of the blocks, Johnny Sexton to be fit for Japan clash

The Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the Rugby World Cup with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Tadhg Furlong celebrates his try against Scotland. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty

And breathe. Ireland got their Rugby World Cup campaign off to a winning start yesterday, as they delivered a dominant performance to beat a disappointing Scotland side 27-3 in a sodden Yokohama. Joe Schmidt's side raced out of the blocks in their Pool A opener, with tries from James Ryan, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong helping them to a 19-3 half-time lead, before Andrew Conway completed the job in the second half. Keith Duggan was in Yokohama as Ireland's tournament got off to a near-perfect start, he writes: "They imposed their game plan. They overpowered and smothered the opposition. They left Scotland looking mentally drained after just half an hour of a World Cup adventure of which they had made big promises. When it ended, after a fractured and soaked second half, the scoreboard read 27-3, the rain still fell hard and the Irish team once again resembled that team who habitually show up and take care of business." Meanwhile Gerry Thornley reflected on a night when Ireland's well-oiled machine looked back to its brilliant best: "Everyone was sharp and utterly assured of their roles, whether starting or off the bench. There wasn't an average performance to be had. There was not one weak link in the chain. The bedrocks were the set-pieces, with a 100 per cent return from 10 scrums and a dozen lineouts, and not only did the maul yield a try but their defensive maul kept the Scots at bay."

The only negatives on Sunday came in the form of knocks to a number of players, with Bundee Aki and Peter O'Mahony both failing to return after undergoing HIAs, while Johnny Sexton passed on the place-kicking duties to Conor Murray after suffering a thigh injury. However, an IRFU spokesperson has confirmed all three should be available for next Saturday's second match against Japan, with Rob Kearney, Keith Earls and Joey Carbery all set to train fully this week. If Ireland can see off the tournament hosts in Shizuoka then they will be well set to top Pool A, meaning a quarter-final clash with South Africa awaits. Gerry Thornley writes: "One problem with World Rugby packing, or over-packing, so many defining pool matches on the opening weekend is that the die has been fairly well cast between now and at least the last round of pool matches. Conor O'Shea will have to rotate when playing Canada with a four-day turnaround after beating Namibia yesterday, and they will then die with their boots on against South Africa. But, realistically, an Ireland v South Africa quarter-final now looks a short odds-on bet." The Sprinboks look destined to finish as runners-up in Pool B after their 23-13 defeat to New Zealand on Saturday, with the reigning world champions delivering an ominously impressive performance.

Elsewhere in his column this morning Liam Toland has praised Ireland's clinical showing in Yokohama, after Schmidt's side stuck to their game plan with aplomb. He writes: "For me, Gregor Townsend's pre-match interview was fascinating. When the Scottish coach was asked what he said to his team before leaving them on the pitch, he responded: "Deliver your best performance". No, no, no, no not your best? Ireland didn't win their opening Rugby World Cup by doing their best, but by doing their job - the difference in elite sport." Meanwhile in this morning's Tipping Point column Malachy Clerkin writes that we should cherish the last few weeks of the Joe Schmidt era, with the best coach in Irish rugby history - and arguably in Irish sporting history - departing after Japan. "When he leaves the job, regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, he'll walk out the door with plenty in the credit side of the ledger. That ought to be clear to everyone, right?"

Away from Ireland, Wales begin their Rugby World Cup campaign today, with the Grand Slam winners taking on Georgia in Toyota City (kick-off 11.15am Irish time). You can follow that game live via the Irish Times liveblog.


And finally in other news, Dundalk can secure a fifth Premier Division title in six years tonight, with Vinny Perth's side facing second-placed Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park (kick-off 7.20pm).