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Ireland v Tonga: Rugby World Cup Pool B – live | Rugby World Cup 2023

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Key events

13 minutes: It was an attacking start from Ireland, with 78% possession and bodies thrown at the breakdown. But they haven’t really disrupted their opponents yet.

A fair assessment; getting the bonus point will be hard work, especially since Tonga have not played yet and look fresh and very ready for the physical battle.

@nialmcveigh the bonus point gain we want will be hard work, Tonga with plenty of power and a few players in their XV won’t fear us. JS will get 60 minutes if he isn’t injured before then. Heart and head say BP win but it will be physical carnage, I just hope there are no additional injuries before the Boks

– John McEnerney (@MackerOnTheMed) September 16, 2023

12 minutes: Ireland found some width through James Lowe, who skillfully passed the hand to Hugo Keenan – who was unceremoniously thrown into touch. Tonga No 8 Fifita is receiving treatment after being injured in a collision with Sexton.

10 minutes: After an exchange of clinical kicks, an Irish lineout launches another attack – but Tonga hold firm against the breakdown and regain possession. Their defense held up well during this first period.

Ireland 3-0 Tonga (Sexton pen) Sexton actually converts the penalty, but takes his time. Some Tongan players are unhappy, feeling he has run out the shot clock. Wayne Barnes assures them no, but admits it was “really close.”

4 minutes: Ireland advance to the Tongan 22 for the first time, led by Bundee Aki. They were pushed back, but scrum-half Augustine Pulu – one of four former All Blacks starting for Tonga – awarded a penalty. Sexton will aim for the goal from 28 meters…

3 minutes: A first scrum – Tonga are 60kg ahead in terms of pack size – and Ireland are forced to fall. The crowd launches into an impromptu rendition of The Marseillaise. Everyone is up for this one.

1 minute: Tonga steal possession and Solomone Kata is in space down the right – but there was a forward pass in the build-up. Kata does not hear the whistle and has to be brought into contact by two men in white.

To start up

Tonga kick off the match amid a wall of noise. An early offside by Vaea Fifita will give Johnny Sexton the chance to run upfield for territory.

Tonga performs Sipi Tau.
Tonga performs Sipi Tau. Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

There is a big Irish contingent this evening in Nantes, and the “call of Ireland” rings out around the stadium. Then the Tongan players gather for the pre-match sipi tau, which is surprising. Let’s go!

The teams meet at the Stade de la Beaujoire, the venue where Fiji eliminated Wales in 2007. It’s time for the anthems, with Tonga in red and Ireland in their second white jersey.

This is Andy Farrell, and he dismisses any questions about the strength of his starting XV. “The match is important for us. A completely different type of match from last week, we respect the opposition and the competition. The start is always important, (but) it’s an 80-minute match. They (Tonga) are a great team, they have very good set pieces and a very good maul.

Some pre-match readings from Luke McLaughlin.

Here’s a window into another world: Ireland’s only other World Cup encounter with Tonga, in 1987 at a not-so-crowded Ballymore in Brisbane. Ireland reached the quarter-finals of the inaugural tournament and this remains their joint best result, equaled in 1991, 1995, 2003, 2011, 2015. And 2019.

The teams

Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton (c), Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Substitutes: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Ryan Baird, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw.

Tonga: Charles Piutau, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Malakai Fekitoa, Pita Ahki, Solomone Kata, William Havili, Augustine Pulu; Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Paula Ngauamo, Ben Tameifuna (c), Sam Lousi, Halaleva Fifita, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sione Talitui, Vaea Fifita.

Substitutes: Sam Moli, Tau Koloamatangi, Sosefo Apikotoa, Semisi Paea, Solomone Funaki, Sione Vailanu, Sonatane Takul, Fine Inisi.

Preamble

In a tournament where underdogs caused plenty of problems, Ireland suffered an old-fashioned defeat against Romania in their opening match, conceding the first try but scoring 12 in retaliation. It was a remarkable start for the world’s No. 1 team, but the hill from there is steep.

After tonight’s clash against Tonga – which is a tough proposition in itself – it’s a Tier 1 battle royal for as long as Andy Farrell’s side can stay in the game. South Africa, then Scotland – and if they advance, either France or New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

It says a lot about the threat Tonga pose: despite the looming schedule, Farrell went out with a strong team tonight, not wanting to risk a mistake. Like their island neighbors Samoa, Tonga are reinforced by former All Blacks and had to wait a full week to win this tournament.

Ireland need only look back to their narrow victory against Samoa in preparation to understand the danger that Tonga will pose. There are no easy matches at the World Cup anymore, especially for Farrell’s trophy hunters. Kick-off is at 8pm (BST) in Nantes.



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