Scotland went down in wet Yokohama with much more a squeak than a roar as they started the Rugby World Cup in near disastrous fashion, almost humiliated by Ireland.
Tries from James Ryan, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Conway gave Ireland a much-deserved victory and in fact they probably weren’t full value for the scale of the 27-3 victory, as comfortable as it was.
Scotland came into this contest with the usual pre-tournament degree of over-optimism and had it thoroughly and utterly disabused yet again.
It wasn’t even close as early as the 12th minute, and there was a depressing similarity to the dispiriting capitulations under Gregor Townsend in Fiji, Cardiff, Paris and Nice in recent times.
Centre Sam Johnson was maybe their best performer but only for three try-saving tackles that prevented it being a complete demolition.
Scotland’s pack looked off the pace in execution and in contact, and all the detailed preparation we’d heard about for 10 weeks didn’t deliver a team that looked like they were even ready for this kind of full-on, high-octane form of rugby.
Ireland were as Ireland always are, and they must delight in meeting Scotland as an opportunity to burst out of the occasional slump they seem to find themselves in.
Whether they can beat South Africa in the quarter-finals is another matter, but they clearly have a much better chance than Scotland, even if they manage to reach the last eight to meet, in all likelihood, the champions and favourites New Zealand.
In addition, Scotland lost their only specialised open-side Hamish Watson to what looked like a tournament-ending injury.
Badly executed and over-ambitious attack play in the first half by Scotland, added to elementary defensive errors, were pretty typical of the recent history of these matches, and Ireland were able to fill their boots as usual.
The only difference was the Irish weren’t quite as ruthless as they have been in the past. Scrambling tackles from Johnson saved the Scots three times, but Ireland were good enough to get to half-time 19-3 ahead and the contest all but decided.
The Scots did start brightly, with some decent kicking and a charge down of the first attempt from Jonny Sexton, but a miss-pass from Duncan Taylor to Sean Maitland went in touch on halfway and it was pretty much downhill from then on.
Iain Henderson started the green tide rolling by smashing through an ineffective Stuart McInally tackle and rumbling into the Scottish 22, and his second row partner Ryan went over from close range, Sexton converting with just seven minutes played.
Within five minutes Hogg was penalised for holding on when snared by Garry Ringrose, Ireland kicked to the corner twice to turn the screw, and eventually their skipper Best wriggled over from the lineout maul. It did look like the Irish captain lost the ball before he grounded it, but referee Wayne Barnes refused Scotland’s pleas for a TMO review.
Scotland finally made inroads into the 22 and the Irish killed possession for Laidlaw to at least make a dent in the scoreboard with a penalty, but as they shaped for another attack a Russell pass to Seymour went to ground and Scotland’s luck deserted them as Ireland countered.
Ringrose kicked through to the Scottish line and Hogg easily won the race, but saw the ball come back off the post guard and had no chance to avoid Conway tackling him for a scrum-five.
That was another golden chance for Ireland and they were suitably clinical, Furlong diving over on the second charge to the line, Murray converting for an indisposed Sexton.
Johnson’s brilliant tackles on Stockdale and Conway kept Ireland from adding to the scoreline before the break but there was another massive blow for the men in blue when Watson suffered an injury when hit awkwardly at a ruck and was stretchered off.
The rain predicted all week arrived with a vengeance just before half-time, and as the second half began Scotland duly dropped two routine passes to kill promising situations, the first from Taylor and the next from Barclay.
And Ireland killed off any remaining hope the Scots may have been entertaining when Ryan Wilson spilled a Conor Murray high kick, Jordan Larmour pounced on the loose ball, and Conway went in for the fourth, unconverted try on a hopelessly exposed left side with 56 minutes played.
Replacement stand-off Jack Carty kicked a penalty as Ireland emptied their bench to preserve their energy for future battles, and even when Hogg raced at pace into the Irish 22 and Tadhg Beirne was yellow carded for killing the ball, Jack Conan pinched the ball at the ruck and Ireland escaped easily.
Twice Scotland kicked penalties to the corner to try to force a try, but twice they were repelled comfortably, a lineout throw going straight to Ryan and Russell forcing a forward pass to Darcy Graham.
A try in the late going might have given some consolation for the Scots, but in truth they didn’t even deserve that. The final scoreline was actually flattering.
Scotland: S Hogg (Exeter Chiefs); T Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), D Taylor (Saracens), S Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) , S Maitland (Saracens); F Russell (Racing 92), G Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne); A Dell (London Irish), S McInally (capt, Edinburgh), W Nel (Edinburgh); G Gilchrist (Edinburgh), J Gray (Glasgow Warriors); J Barclay (Edinburgh), H Watson (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow Warriors, for Watson 38), G Reid (Ayrshire Bulls for Dell 62), S Berghan (Edinburgh for Nel 53), S Cummings (Glasgow Warriors for Gray 65), B Thomson (Scarlets for Barclay 53), A Price (Glasgow Warriors for Laidlaw 62), C Harris (Gloucester for Taylor 65), D Graham (Edinburgh for Seymour 58)
Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; I Henderson, J Ryan; P O’Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander. Replacements: R Scannell, D Kilcoyne for Healy 50, A Porter for Furlong 50, T Beirne for Henderson 58, J Conan for O’Mahony 27, L McGrath for Murray 58, J Carty for Sexton 58, C Farrell for Aki 21.
Ref: W Barnes (RFU)