Ireland 27 Scotland 3: Scotland smashed by Ireland in Rugby World Cup opener
The pre-match build-up was given some spice by Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor’s tasty comments that they would look to “smash” Ireland’s star playmaker Johnny Sexton.
In the end it was the Scots who were not only smashed, but utterly pulverised, by a crushingly clinical display by the world’s No 1-ranked team.
It was the big moment, after months of lead-up, for what has been described as the “best prepared Scotland side to ever go to a World Cup”, but they failed to turn up.
It was also Scotland’s most experienced ever starting XV, with a combined total of 630 caps, but Ireland’s battle-hardened machine made it look men against boys from the off.
Scotland leaked early tries yet again, this time against an opponent that wasn’t going to let them off the back foot for a second and cruised to a comprehensive victory that leaves Gregor Townsend and his coaching team much to ponder.
The walk from Shin-Yokohama station to the impressive stadium made it clear that Irish fans were in the vast majority and, although, in a neutral setting there was a sense of foreboding that the Scots were heading into a cauldron against a side puffed up from their recent return to the top of the World Rugby rankings.
A steady start was required but the opening exchanges were loose and frantic and Scotland’s already insufferable habit of starting games poorly must now be described as a chronic condition.
First Irish lock Iain Henderson broke through the tackle attempts of skipper Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist to camp on the Scottish line. Ireland had a glaring overlap to their right but Conor Murray stuck with the big men to get the job done and it was the other second row, James Ryan, who applied the all important final inches.
Scotland were caught in a storm as Ireland ploughed on relentlessly. The confidence of the men in green was evidenced when a kickable penalty was sent to the corner instead and it paid off as under-pressure skipper Rory Best, who received the biggest roar from the Irish fans when the teams were announced, hung on the back of the maul to add the second try in 15 minutes, Sexton’s conversion drifting across the posts.
Greig Laidlaw slotted a penalty to get his side on the board but a potential foothold crumbled as Scotland’s match so far was summed up when Finn Russell’s pass was interfered with, Chris Farrell booted up the field, Stuart Hogg had the pace to have it well covered as it headed dead but it bounced back off the post protector and the Scotland full-back was bundled over to win the Irish a scrum-five.
They routinely made it a third try from three visits to the opposition 22 as they simply homed in on the open door that was the Scottish line and tighthead Tadhg Furlong burrowed over.
With Sexton, who had come in for some physical treatment by the Scots in this year's Six Nations game at Murrayfield, being treated for a slight knock it was Murray who stretched the lead out to 16 points with the conversion.
Make no mistake, Ireland were an awesomely impressive sight. Ruthless, clinical and carrying out a simple but effective gameplan with passion, power and purpose.
Scotland, in contrast, once again looked like rabbits in the headlights. Panicked, disjointed and seemingly surprised by what everybody knew was coming - a physical onslaught.
Even Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, onetime assistant to former Scotland coach Vern Cotter at Clermont Auvergne, must have been surprised just how easily it was all falling into place.
As the rain began to fall steadily, Scottish misery was compounded as the merciful interval approached when Hamish Watson, their best forward, was stretchered off and spent the rest of the match watching from the bench with his left knee in a brace.
Hooker Fraser Brown came on in his old flanker position, with John Barclay moving to openside.
Ireland continued to press but the Scots were able to get into the dressing room with no more damage inflicted, where a few choice words were no doubt exchanged as another Twickenham miracle was required.
An early Scottish score was imperative and a slender window opened after a turnover in the Irish 22. Laidlaw milked the phases but it was drifting sideways and the defence was well set. Barclay tried to inject something from deep but the wet ball flew out of his grasp like a bar of soap.
The famous Twickenham fightback was built on a just-cut-loose gamble which paid off, but these were not the kind of conditions for that kind of cavalier rugby.
When Irish wing Andrew Conway’s aerial challenge on Ryan Wilson after a perfect Murray up and under saw another spilled ball from Scotland in their own 22 the rampant Irish gleefully secured the bonus point. You could say the match too but, sadly, that had seemed long gone for a long time.
Townsend brought on Ali Price and Darcy Graham to try and inject some urgency but with a pack continuing to be outmuscled and Scotland seemingly incapable of any kind of ball retention, it was reaching the point, with 15 minutes remaining, you wished a towel could be thrown in - not to dry the ball, but to end a badly mismatched bout.
To rub salt in Scottish wounds, Ireland opted to kick a penalty in the 68th minute to stretch the lead to 24 points and take even a draw beyond three converted tries in the final 12 minutes. Game over.
Scotland now have over a week to regroup for their next Pool A match against Samoa in Kobe a week on Monday. The powerful Pacific islanders always looked to be dangerous second match-up, especially after an opening game. For Scotland the 2019 World Cup has begun in a maelstrom of pressure.
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Ryan, Best, Furlong, Conway. Cons: Sexton, Murray. Pen: HartyScotland: Pen: Laidlaw.
Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (c), T Furlong; J Ryan, I Henderson; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.Subs: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, T Beirne, J Conan, L McGrath, J Carty, C Farrell.Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, D Taylor, S Johnson, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; A Dell, S McInally, (c), WP Nel, G Gilchrist, J Gray, J Barclay, H Watson, R Wilson.Subs: F Brown, G Reid, S Berghan, S Cummings, B Thomson, A Price, C Harris, D Graham.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng)