Ireland dispelled any notions of complacency as they blitzed Scotland 36 – 14 at the Stade de France to seal the top spot in Pool B at the Rugby World Cup.
Coming into the fixture, there were a number of permutations that could have seen any of the three top-ranked teams in the pool miss out on a place in the quarterfinals.
For Andy Farrell’s side, the math was simple: two or more match points would secure their place atop the group.
Scotland, on the other hand, required either a victory of eight or more points whilst denying Ireland a bonus point to secure second place and a quarterfinal match-up with France.
From the off, Ireland had a spark about them as Garry Ringrose broke through the heart of the Scottish defence before offloading to an onrushing James Lowe on the left-hand touchline.
Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton would miss the wide conversion to the right, leaving Ireland 5 – 0 ahead.
The next fifteen minutes of action would be one-way traffic as Scotland launched waves of attack without ever truly penetrating the Irish line.
Selective in their Ireland came up with several key turn-overs whilst also employing the choke tackle frequently to cut off the Scottish offloading game.
Conversely as they have done frequently over the past twenty-four months, Ireland struck when given an opportunity.
Scoring their second try, fullback Hugo Keenan benefitted from yet another Sexton wrap-around play. Utilising the red-hot Bundee Aki, who rode the Scottish tackles to create space, Ireland exposed the Scottish wide defence for Keenan to scoot away.
This time, Sexton would make no mistake as he pushed Ireland 12 points clear.
Now firmly in the ascendancy, Ireland laid siege to the Scottish line. Employing back-to-back mauls, Ireland continued to milk advantage as the Scottish pack scrambled to plug the holes.
Claiming Ireland’s third, Secondrow Iain Henderson dropped his 6’6” frame to burrow over. Sexton would add the extra two points to ease Ireland into a comfortable 19 – 0 lead.
The next five minutes would see plenty of play between the two 22m lines as the sides jostled for field position.
Ireland would then find themselves back deep in the Scottish 5m area once again applying the squeeze on the Scottish defence.
Under immense pressure, the Scottish discipline slipped as they conceded two quick-fire penalties. Now 10 meters out, Ireland went for a tap penalty with Hooker Dan Sheehan carrying into contact. Just as the Hooker looked to offload, referee Nic Berry would be tangled up in the action setting up an Irish scrum.
Setting a solid platform, the Irish pack got the ball moving forward before some quick hands across the backline saw Keenan securing his second of the evening.
As the second half dawned, Ireland came on shorn of their two wingers. Mack Hansen, who had left the action with an HIA on the 25th minute, will now be a question mark for next weekend’s quarterfinal match-up with New Zealand.
Joining his back three teammates, James Lowe was replaced by scrumhalf Conor Murray, which saw a backline reshuffle with Jamison Gibson-Park moving to the wing.
Despite the scoreline, the bite in the fixture remained as the two sides squared up in an elongated scuffle that saw Ireland Hooker Dan Sheehan thrown over the bannisters.
Sparking the scuffle was Scotland fullback Ollie Smith, who tripped Sexton as he jogged away. Smith would be shown a yellow card for the indiscretion as the pressure ratcheted up for Gregor Townsend’s side.
As had been the case during the side’s Six Nations meeting at Murrayfield, Ireland were not slowed by their positional shifts. In fact, it was Gibson-Park who sparked the first Irish try of the second half as he broke down the right-hand touchline.
Two phases later, Gibson-Park would weave around the Scottish defence to deliver a ball to Sheehan on the touchline, who was one-on-one with the covering Scottish defence.
Getting low, Sheehan burrowed over to take Ireland to 31 – 0 up. With the result now beyond doubt, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell emptied his bench.
Crucially for Ireland, experienced heads Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, Tadhg Furlong and Tadhg Beirne all departed. The advantage being twofold, as a handful of bench players gained some meaningful minutes whilst the experienced core avoided injuries.
Fourteen minutes after coming onto the pitch, replacement flyhalf Jack Crowley showed his quality with a pinpoint crossfield kick under duress for Garry Ringrose to score Ireland’s sixth try.
Crowley would miss the conversion as the ball hit the upright to keep Ireland 36 – 0 in front.
Now firmly out of the contest, Scotland threw caution to the wind as they attacked from deep. Finally, their efforts would pay off as they isolate Conor Murray down the right-hand touchline for replacement hooker Ewan Ashman to run in untouched.
From the ensuing kick-off, Scotland ripped through the Irish defence to get their second and final try of the evening.
Scrumhalf Ali Price would finish the move off under the posts as Scotland found a pulse at 36 – 14 down.
With their tails now firmly up, Scotland showed what many expected from this as they picked and probed at the Irish line. Having seemingly been shellshocked, Ireland regathered their composure to nullify the comeback.
Finishing the match with what looked to be a try for replacement tighthead prop Finlay Bealham. Ireland would be denied the chance to break the forty-point barrier as Bealham knocked on over the line.
Scotland would launch a final attack, but it would fizzle out on the halfway line as Ireland intercepted an offload before throwing the ball into touch.
As the brutally tough Pool B comes to a close, Ireland and South Africa will progress to the quarterfinals.
Ireland will renew their budding rivalry with New Zealand at the Stade de France, whilst the Springboks will face Rugby World Cup hosts France at the same venue.