Johnny Sexton turns things around as Ireland prepare to face South Africa with Tonga’s win
Ireland 59 Tonga 16
Johnny Sexton brought down the house in Nantes with a try that saw him become his country’s record goalscorer as Ireland prepared for their clash with the Springboks next weekend.
Sexton (38 years old) raced between the goals in the 38th minute to beat his former rival turned friend Ronan O’Gara on the scoring charts.
A crowd of teammates swarmed the veteran skipper to celebrate his achievement as the bonus try point was secured.
Read more: Johnny Sexton makes history when he becomes Ireland’s record top scorer with a try against Tonga
Most importantly, it means Andy Farrell can take him on the break with the Bucs’ clash at Stade de France next Saturday night in mind.
Farrell will have some concerns about letting Tonga back into the contest after Peter O’Mahony was left out – the Pacific Islanders scored 10 unanswered points in either half to make it 31-16.
But then top scorer Vaia Fifita missed the chance to score another goal for the Sea Eagles before James Lowe clinched it for the favourites, who eventually got away with it.
It was also far from ideal for Tadhg Furlong to return just minutes after being withdrawn as Finlay Bealham went off for an HIA and did not return.
That could cost Connacht a place on the bench against the Boks with Tom O’Toole the next prop out of the pecking order.
However, Ireland emerged relatively unscathed, and that was important for what was to come.
Ultimately, Farrell’s decision to field his team with key players was the right one, especially after seeing how Uruguay and Portugal respectively caused problems for hosts France and Wales.
At least the Irish goal-line woes have faded, and a largely impressive display from set-pieces means they can build to face the Boks with confidence, while giving Rassie Erasmus and Jack Nienaber plenty to think about.
A red-hot Tonga took a number of early penalties, although William Havili’s 50-metre three-pointer restored parity in the 16th minute.
Andrew Porter had the score disallowed for the world’s top-ranked team, but Tadhg Byrne crossed soon after for the first try of the match in the 21st minute.
Tonga were undone by an ancient attacking move used by Leinster for the first time which saw Sexton’s reverse pass launch Kaylan Doris into space.
Another flourishing penalty kick from Havili reduced the deficit to 10-6 but a successful line drive saw Doris pile on for Ireland’s second try as Paul O’Connell punched the air into the coaches’ penalty area.
While McHansen presented his shorts to fans in Purdue after the Irish’s record 82-8 finals win last week, this time he gifted a swinging Beaujoire Stadium with his stunning five-pointer.
The breakaway winger received a pass that bounced off Gary Ringrose, then cut inside and beat five defenders to score.
Thanks also go to Hugo Keenan, who was attacked by former Munster midfielder Malaakai Fekitoa, but picked up a pass for the Ringrose.
Sexton’s conversion put him level with O’Gara on 1,083 points and he then happily took the record when Garry Ringrose sent him over.
But things went awry when Tonga piled on the pressure towards the end of the first half – and O’Mahony was in the bin for a rough tackle when Fifita scored.
Havili’s conversion was followed by a three-pointer early in the second half, but Fifita suffered white-line fever when he saw a clear lead only to go forward.
But despite making a host of changes, Ireland had enough in stock as the half progressed.
Lowe’s decisive effort was followed by two more from the in-form Bondi Aki as their opponents tired in the final quarter.
And there was time in the final seconds for Rob Herring to add Ireland’s eighth try after the hooker had been denied a penalty earlier.
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