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Fly-half becomes Ireland’s record scorer in Tonga triumph

By Calum Crowe

JOHNNY SEXTON made history by becoming Ireland’s all-time record points scorer as they put Tonga to the sword in Nantes last night.

The veteran fly-half started the night nine points short of Ronan O’Gara’s previous record of 1,083 in Test match rugby for the Irish.

A couple of conversions midway through the first half saw Sexton edge closer, before he charged over to score his side’s fourth try of the night shortly before half-time.

That was enough to see him move past fellow fly-half O’Gara and, with Ireland holding a comfortable lead against the Tongans, Sexton was duly replaced at half-time.

The 38-year-old is set to retire after the World Cup and the Irish are keen to manage his workload, given that he hadn’t played in six months coming into the tournament.

With games against Scotland and South Africa still to come, Sexton and Co will know that tougher tests lie ahead.

But the fact they have scored 20 tries in their opening two wins over Romania and Tonga speaks of a team brimming with confidence.

From a Scottish perspective, Gregor Townsend will have looked at these two Pool B rivals and tried to pinpoint areas his team could exploit. Particularly in the case of Tonga, Townsend should be confident of his players getting the job done when the teams clash in Nice next Sunday.

A lot was made of Tonga in the build-up to this clash with the Irish. We were told that this would be the ‘best ever’ Tonga, given the talent now available to them.

They were able to call on four former All Blacks — centre Malakai Fekitoa, full-back Charles Piutau, scrum-half Augustine Pulu and back-rower Vaea Fifita.

A change in World Rugby eligibility rules meant that the native Tongans were able to go back and play for the country of their birth, after not representing New Zealand in over three years.

It was quite a cast list they were able to call on. Fekitoa was a World Cup winner with the All Blacks in 2015, while Piutau has long been one of the most lethal runners in rugby.

He demonstrated his silky footwork with one lovely break in the first half which saw him glide past three Irish defenders.

But it was a false dawn. Although Tonga’s challenge was spirited, they looked well beaten at the end.

They started the match well and the scores were locked at 3-3 after the opening 20 minutes. But once Tadhg Beirne crashed over for the opening try, the result was never in doubt.

True, Tonga’s defence stood firm at times and repelled what was a surprisingly strong Ireland side picked by head coach Andy Farrell.

When Farrell announced his team that included Sexton and most of the other big hitters, it was clear that they would not be taking this game lightly.

But it always felt like they had the Tongans at arm’s length. Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen also went over in the first half, adding to the scores from Sexton and Beirne.

Further tries came from James Lowe, Bundee Aki (2) and Rob Herring in the second half as Ireland eased their way to a comfortable victory.

It was Tonga’s set-piece which proved to be one of their biggest downfalls. Their lineout was a mess and denied them any sort of attacking platform.

Scotland were in the very same boat last week against South Africa. You suspect it will be a key area of focus for both teams heading into next week’s game.

It was hoped that a little sprinkling of All Black magic might spark Tonga into life, but it never really materialised. As a team, they never clicked at all.

Having talents like Fekitoa and Piutau in the backline almost becomes irrelevant when the set-piece malfunctions like it did last night.

The Tongans were unable to build any meaningful kind of pressure and, having had such a lack of game-time in their preparations, they looked under-cooked and disjointed.

Their lack of match sharpness told towards the end, as Ireland started

to rack up the points and add some gloss to the scoreline.

Scotland will go into the match against Tonga in Nice as heavy favourites and, against a team ranked No15 in the world, will have no excuses.

They need to win — and win well, knowing that points difference might well play a part in the final standings.





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