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Dominant pack to a big bench: Four reasons Ireland put Scotland to the sword in World Cup opener

Iain Henderson delivered a top performance to help Ireland to a convincing victory over Scotland in Yokohama.
Iain Henderson delivered a top performance to help Ireland to a convincing victory over Scotland in Yokohama.

By Cian Tracey

Ireland's World Cup campaign is up and running in emphatic style as they clinically put Scotland to the sword in Yokohama.

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After a stunning first-half performance, Joe Schmidt's men showed superb professionalism to see out the game in difficult second-half conditions.

There were a huge amount of positives to take from the game and here we have a look at five of them.

1 - Dominant pack set the platform

We knew the Ireland pack were capable of delivering a huge performance like this, but even still, it was difficult not to be hugely impressed and encouraged by the manner in which they utterly dominated Scotland.

Led by Iain Henderson, who was like a man on a mission all game, Ireland bullied Scotland into submission.

Before the game, we analysed why it was vital that Ireland started well and got their power runners into the game early on.

They did just that and Scotland had absolutely no answer to their relentless one-out runners, who punctured holes in the defence far too easily.

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On their first three visits to the Scottish 22, Ireland came away with three tries. It was incredibly efficient stuff.

With the set-piece firing on all cylinders, the pack grew in confidence while Scotland's crumbled.

Gregor Townsend's will have been furious with some of his side's defending, particularly around the fringes of the ruck, but their poor decision-making all came about on the back of Ireland's pressure.

We even saw the return of the maul, which had been kept in cold storage. It's a weapon that Ireland have always used effectively and unleashing it here was a sure sign that they felt they could get at Scotland up front.

After dominating a one-sided first half, Ireland came flying out of the traps after the restart and when Josh van der Flier ferociously cleared out a ruck, which led to Henderson turning the ball over, the tone was once again set.

2 - Aggressive line speed pays dividends

This was a very good day at the office for Andy Farrell and his defence.

A hallmark of Farrell's mantra has always been rapid line speed and his players delivered in spades in that regard here.

With Finn Russell at out-half, Ireland knew they had to shut him down as quickly possible and as soon as they did, his influence faded in and out of the game.

Bundee Aki put in a couple of thumping hits on Russell to set the tone in defence and with James Ryan his usual busy self, Scotland were unable to breach Ireland's stubborn rearguard.

Stuart Hogg rarely got a second on the ball and one particular big hit in the first half from Jacob Stockdale typified Ireland's huger and work-rate to get off the line and hammer every blue jersey that moved.

3 – New-look back-three deliver in testing conditions

There was a sloppy fumble from Stockdale and Andrew Conway misjudged another catch, but by and large, Ireland's new-look back-three delivered.

Jordan Larmour was rock solid at full-back and strengthened his case to be the first-choice full-back whenever Rob Kearney calls it a day.

Larmour eased into the contest with a straightforward catch early on, but the one that followed soon after was a superb take.

There had been question marks over the 22-year old's aerial ability but he looked assured in the slippery conditions as the rain bucketed down.

Both wingers, Stockdale and Conway, looked electric any time they got the ball in space, with the Ulster man putting in a couple of his now trademark chip-and-chases over the top.

Conway linked really well with Sexton on the stroke of half time and his dancing feet had Sean Maitland in all sorts of trouble.

The Munster winger's try was just reward for the trio's effort. Conway did well to force the error from Ryan Wilson in the air and knock the ball back for Larmour.

Conway quickly shifted back to the right wing where once again he demonstrated his devastating finishing ability to score in the corner.

All three may have been making their World Cup debuts, but they each looked to the manor born.

4 – Bench make huge impact

Joe Schmidt has left no stone unturned to build sufficient squad depth and the early signs are that Ireland are in a good place.

Even without four unavailable players, Ireland were comfortable and while it is important to point out that much tougher challenges lie ahead, Schmidt's men are moving in the right direction again.

Jack Conan was outstanding off the bench early and looked much fitter and sharper than he had done in pre-season.

Chris Farrell was also needed much sooner than planned and his aggression in midfield meant that there was no drop off when Aki was forced off.

It's easy to see why Schmidt picked Farrell in his squad. As well as power, the Munster centre once again showed his superb handling ability.

Ireland's back-up props Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter can take a huge amount of credit for the scrum that they won against the head on the hour mark.

Jack Carty and Luke McGrath linked well at half-back with the Connacht man varying the play well. A lovely dink over the top was collected by Farrell and Ireland almost scored a stunning try.

Ireland will need that kind of impact for the tougher test that could lie ahead against South Africa in a potential quarter-final.

But...mixed news on the injury front

Before a ball was even kicked today, there was the welcome sight of Joey Carbery and Keith Earls taking part in Ireland's warm-up.

Both players have been struggling with Carbery unable to shrug off an ankle issue in time, while Earls has a knee problem.

There was a positive update on their fitness earlier this week, but seeing them out running freely will come as a huge relief to Joe Schmidt.

Carbery went through his pre-game kicking routine as normal and showed no ill effects of the ankle injury that threatened to end his World Cup dream.

At Friday's team announcement Schmidt had said that Earls "was the sharpest player on Wednesday at training." The Munster winger certainly looked it here, from as much as you could tell from a warm-up.

There was no sign of Robbie Henshaw (hamstring), who is likely to be facing a longer period out, while Ireland remain hopeful that Rob Kearney (calf) will be back in the mix for the Japan game next weekend.

In less positive news however, Ireland lost Bundee Aki and Peter O'Mahony to head injuries in the first half and both are now in a race to be fit for that next game, because the return to play protocols don't allow much wiggle room.

Johnny Sexton looked to have a niggling calf issue which restricted his place kicking duties, but with Carbery set to return against Japan, Schmidt can afford to put Sexton on ice if need be.

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