South Africa

Sexton steals the show with new landmark as Irish thrash Tonga

Johnny Sexton became Ireland’s record points scorer as he notched 16 in their 59-16 romp over Tonga in the Rugby World Cup Pool B match on Saturday.

The 38-year-old moved to 1,090, seven more than previous holder Ronan O’Gara, setting it in style with a try he converted in the first half before sitting out the second half as defending champions South Africa loom next Saturday.

The Irish scored eight tries, man of the match Bundee Aki scoring a second successive brace in front of 15,000 raucous Irish fans in Nantes.

Sexton said the record was “a lovely personal milestone” but insisted it was the progress of his team that was uppermost in his mind before they face the Springboks.

Team’s progress more important

“I don’t think it’s about individual achievements, it’s about getting the next win and keep building in this tournament,” he told ITV.

“It’s week-on-week in a World Cup. We’re concentrating on a massive game next week.”

Sexton opted to go for goal early on when Tonga infringed and he slotted it over after taking so long to do so that the Tongans raised their arms to suggest he had gone beyond the time limit.

However, Wayne Barnes resisted their overtures and the score stood.

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The Tongans’ natural ball-handling skills were nullified by their lack of discipline and poor lineouts.

However, Ireland too were getting on the wrong side of Barnes and William Havili levelled the match with a penalty just inside the Irish half.

The Irish had a try ruled out shortly afterwards but they finally had one in the 20th minute.

Caelan Doris broke through the Tongan defence and offloaded to Tadhg Beirne whose momentum carried him to the line. Sexton converted for 10-3.

Havili reduced the deficit with another long-range penalty but then Doris had his day as he was bundled over the tryline and Sexton added the extras.

Ireland’s third try came soon afterwards and was a thing of beauty.

The backs getting in on the act helped find Mack Hansen who still had work to do.

The Australia-born wing cut inside fullback Charles Piutau and left the Tongans in his wake as he went over to touch down.

Sexton converted to move level with O’Gara’s record and the Irish could relax at 24-6.

Sexton show

It was the Sexton show next up as Garry Ringrose found space and set up his captain who touched down under the posts.

Normally poker-faced even when scoring, Sexton rose with a grin on his face and ran to the crowd with his team-mates mobbing him.

He gathered himself and converted after a nervy pause as referee Barnes waited to see if the try needed to be reviewed.

All was good and he added the extras to move Ireland to 31-6 ahead with the bonus point wrapped up prior to the break.

However, the Tongans’ spirit was far from broken and they came storming back.

They exerted so much pressure that the Irish defence cracked first, veteran flanker Peter O’Mahony was sin-binned and then one of their former All Blacks Vaea Fifita went over.

Havili converted for a half-time score of 31-13.

Springboks looming

Sexton did not emerge for the second half, coach Andy Farrell deciding to let him put his feet up along with the whole of the front row.

However, without them the Irish initially struggled to impose themselves with Ross Byrne as Sexton’s replacement.

Indeed it was the Tongans who added the first points, Havili kicking a penalty soon after the restart for 31-16 and they managed to defend stoutly and pose a threat in other moments.

The Irish, though, pulled themselves together as replacement scrum-half Craig Casey fed James Lowe coming in off his left wing and he went over — Byrne converted for 38-16.

Byrne added another conversion shortly afterwards — for 45-16 — after Aki stormed through from outside the Tonga 22 to add a try to the two he scored last weekend.

The duo teamed up again as the Irish brought up the half-century when Aki went under the posts and Byrne converted for 52-16.

The Irish fans then took the show over, belting out “The Fields of Athenry” as the clock wound down, until hooker Rob Herring interrupting their singing with a final try which Byrne converted.