Ireland 59-16 Tonga: Record breaker Johnny Sexton inspires Andy Farrell’s side to another emphatic victory at the Rugby World Cup as they run riot and secure crucial bonus point
- Johnny Sexton became Ireland’s record points scorer in the victory over Tonga
- Andy Farrell’s side ran riot in Nantes and secured the bonus point in the first half
- The emphatic triumph built upon their 82-8 demolition of Romania last time out
- Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results
Already a national hero, Johnny Sexton found the perfect way to gild his legend as Ireland’s World Cup campaign slipped into a higher gear in Nantes.
A raucous crowd of just over 31,000 in the Stade de la Beaujoire was mostly Irish, but a significant local French presence not only took Tonga to their hearts, but also delighted in booing the Ireland captain at every opportunity.
Little wonder that he celebrated so jubilantly in the 38th minute, then, when he galloped under the posts for Ireland’s fourth try, assuring them of the bonus point, allowing Andy Farrell to turn his thoughts to South Africa before half time.
With that score, Sexton also claimed the overall Irish points record from his old rival, Ronan O’Gara, with Sexton now seven clear on 1,090.
He is not only Ireland’s captain, he is the team’s inspiration, its most important player, the standard-setter and dream-catcher.
Johnny Sexton became Ireland’s record points scorer during the victory against Tonga
Sexton (left) led by example after running in Ireland’s fourth try and secured a bonus point
Not only his side’s captain, Sexton is their inspiration, standard-setter and dream-catcher
As long as the 38 year old stays fit, Ireland’s ambitions in this tournament can float high.
The wisdom of Farrell selecting his strongest team for this game, with the Springboks lurking just seven days and their preferred starting team rested this weekend, was not all convincing, given the risks of injury.
But hale and hearty, they and he anticipate Paris with belief buoyant.
What will especially please him was how Ireland once again worked the early wrinkles out of their performance, as they did in the opener against Romania.
Their attacking designs for the first quarter of an hour were undone by handling errors and mistimed passes that repeatedly scuppered promising attacking situations.
But once Tadhg Beirne got over in the 21st minute, the destination of the victory, and its nature, was inevitable.
The Tongan threat was two-fold, in their ferocious tackling and their broken-field running, but neither manifested itself in anything more than snatches.
Once Ireland’s play clicked, they were too fast and too practiced for the opposition. The Tongan team was full of high-level experience at club level in both hemispheres, but limited opportunities in the Test calendar are the biggest impediment to the Pacific Island nations building on rich cultures and natural talent.
Ireland: H Keenan; M Hansen, G Ringrose (R Henshaw 50), B Aki, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt, R Byrne HT), C Murray (C Casey 56); A Porter (D Kilcoyne HT), R Kelleher (R Herring HT), T Furlong (F Bealham HT); T Beirne, J Ryan (I Henderson 50); P O’Mahony, J van der Flier, C Doris (R Baird 53)
Scorers: Tries – Aki (2), Beirne, Doris, Hansen, Sexton, Lowe, Herring; Cons – Sexton (4), Byrne (4) Pen – Sexton
Tonga: C Piutau; A Taumopeau, M Fekitoa, P Ahki, S Kata (F Inisi 71); W Havili, A Pulu (S Takulua HT); S Fisi’ihoi (S Apikotoa 68), P Ngauamo (S Moli 50), B Tameifuna (capt, T Koloamatangi 60)); S Lousi, H Fifita (S Paea 70); T Halaifonua (S Funaki 52), S Talitui, V Fifita
Scorers: Try – Vaea Fifita; Con: Havili; Pens – Havili (3)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Once Tadhg Beirne got over, the destination of the victory, and its nature, was inevitable
Tongan carelessness led to Ireland’s second try of the match, scored by Caelan Doris (bottom)
They simply couldn’t compete.
What access they did get into the game was invariably the result of Irish indiscipline, and eight penalties conceded in the first half will irritate Farrell, with a total of 13 for the 80 minutes far too high at Test level.
Tonga could only take limited advantage, building pressure on the Irish line before Vaea Fifita got over after a period of pressure that also saw Peter O’Mahony shown a yellow card for killing the ball.
But Tongan carelessness was much more costly. They too conceded eight penalties in the first half and the sixth, given away in the 24th minute, led to Ireland’s second try, through Caelan Doris.
It was a brainless concession by winger Solomone Kata, who followed through on James Lowe after the latter’s clearing kick.
Ireland were given a penalty from where the ball landed, and off the line-out they got their maul trundling, with Doris dotting down.
Mack Hansen’s effort for the third was glorious, arriving in the 33rd minute on the end of quick passing and clever movement that spread play across the pitch. Hansen was left with much to do after Keenan’s pass, but jinked through traffic to get over.
There followed Sexton’s record-breaking dart across the line, and as well as the personal honour and team dividend, it was also a sweet riposte to the agitators in the stand who looked to goad him as often as possible.
Mick Hansen’s effort for the third try was superb and capped off a quick and clever move
Tonga continued to battle bravely and Vaea Fifita dotted the ball down before celebrating
But Ireland did not let up after the interval, James Lowe notching their fifth try of the evening
Sexton has had a spiky relationship with France dating back to the two ill-fated years he spent at Racing in the last decade.
The French media never became admirers, while the relish he has taken in helping Ireland become dominant against France – most famously with his game-winning drop goal at the death in Paris in the 2018 Six Nations – hasn’t endeared him to the rugby set in this country, either.
He won’t have cared a whit, and he had the luxury of taking in the second half from the stand after Farrell wisely replaced him with Ross Byrne.
Farrell also introduced a new front row at the break, resting key props Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong. But moments later, the first scrum of the half brought a Tongan penalty, and with it a reminder that Ireland’s World Cup hopes, viable though they may be, are also built on a narrower base than those of South Africa and France.
The drop-off from vital starters to the alternatives is sheer in places.
The best of the Tongan effort came from classy out-half William Havili, while Charles Piutau showed flashes of the class that shone only intermittently in two seasons at Ulster.
They made a rousing start before a ball was kicked with their pre-game challenge, the Sipi Tau. As it began, Ireland’s players took three steps forward, much to the delight of their fans.
And for as long as the game was competitive, there weren’t many backward steps taken.
The contest became more unstructured with the raft of replacements made by both sides, with Farrell taking care to get pivotal players James Ryan and Doris off early, too.
There was still time for Bundee Aki to bring up two tries of his own, adding to his overall tally
Tonga made a rousing start, accompanied by the Sipi Tau, but were forced to settle for defeat
One concern was the departure of Finlay Bealham with Furlong obliged to replace him, and seeing his tighthead prop play almost 80 minutes with what South Africa will muster in Paris, must have unsettled Farrell.
It is also the sort of adversity that he relishes and which Farrell has urged his players to embrace over the past three years.
And as bills of health go after two rounds of the tournament, 10 points on the table and a sick bay free of starters reads very well.
Lowe eventually got the team’s fifth try in the 59th minute, with Bundee Aki getting over for his third and fourth of the tournament as well and a late score for Rob Herring, and the now-familiar feel-good vibes began to course through the crowd.
This was the perfect weekend trip, in pleasant heat, with no great delays or traffic headaches, for the thousands of their fans in the ground.
The Rugby World Cup trophy was on a plinth between the mouth of the tunnel and the pitch before kick-off. As Ireland’s players ran in after their warm-up, Andy Farrell and his coaching staff followed after, with the Ireland head coach casting a glance at the William Webb Ellis trophy.
In six weeks’ time, it will have been claimed by someone.
Ireland believe they have as strong a say in its destination as any of the game’s heavyweights.
Those ambitions will soon be subjected to the most brutal of examinations. They will show up for that challenge in impressively robust health.
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