Ireland accounted for Tonga 59-16 and accounted for all fingers, toes, arms and legs in mostly good order after a successful Rugby World Cup gamble.
The Irish first team was risked for a second straight match to build a head of steam for their showdown with defending champion South Africa next weekend in Paris and the risk paid off. Backup tighthead prop Finlay Bealham came off and appeared to be the only injury.
But Ireland’s key players got through unscathed, they got the bruising hit-out needed, and a Tonga team self-described as its best ever was taken apart clinically.
As a bonus, captain Jonathan Sexton tallied 16 more points and passed Ronan O’Gara and Neil Jenkins to fourth on the all-time international points list.
Sexton, critical to Ireland’s success, has scored three tries and slotted 12 of 13 goalkicks in two World Cup matches after six months out. They have extended their winning streak to 15 tests with their second-best World Cup victory, one week after the best, 82-8 against Romania. He and Ireland look ready to meet the Springboks in Paris.
“We’re delighted to get five points against a very good team,” Sexton said. “That was the main objective. We did it, and we’ll concentrate now on a massive game next week. Playing against the world champions is going to be really special.”
A lot of attention on Tonga was paid to four former All Blacks it fielded and they enhanced a tough team which has been around the block. Tonga’s average age of 29-plus is second in the tournament only to South Africa. But in its first game, it wasn’t sharp or in sync — the defense was ragged.
Still, Ireland needed every drop of its own considerable experience to contain them, and was ruthless against Tonga errors.
Sexton got the show rolling with a penalty kick after the shot clock finished. Tonga queried referee Wayne Barnes, who said it was not his job to enforce the clock.
Ireland showed the range of its options after halftime with more tries by Lowe, Bundee Aki, who got two, and Rob Herring, who had one rubbed off for a double movement.
Tonga has Scotland next weekend.
“We were our own worst enemy. They’re a really complete team,” Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to throw a little bit more punches next week.” MDT/AP