The Irish set the stage for next Saturday night’s mouth-watering duel in Group B of this year’s World Cup tournament against the Springboks in Nantes when they thrashed Tonga 59 – 16.
But who will sit at the head table?
Will the Irish also be able to keep the physical Boks and the Bomb Squad (substitute bench) in check?
The Irish take on the Boks at the Stade de France in Paris to determine which team will finish first in Group B of this year’s World Cup.
The Irish, who scored 12 tries in their opener against Romania, again made a big impression by following it up with eight tries against Tonga.
The Irish play at a fast pace, have a rock-solid defensive pattern, throw the ball around, handle very well, are very well coached, do well in set pieces and have good discipline, although Peter O’Mahony received a yellow card against Tonga .
It was also a golden day for veteran flyhalf Johnny Sexton, when he surpassed Ronan O’Gara’s Irish record as the leading scorer in test rugby.
Sexton, who has traditionally been the architect of the Irish backcourt, scored 16 points before being replaced by Ross Byrne by coach Andy Farrell at halftime.
Sexton has now scored 1,090 points in 115 tests, obliterating O’Gara’s previous record of 1,083 points in 128 tests from the record books.
Tonga, which was strengthened with four All Blacks (Salesi Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Augustine Pule and Vaea Fifita) for the World Cup tournament due to World Rugby’s relaxation of the residency qualifications, had no answer for the Irish’s high tempo and stranglehold.
They also made sure that Piutau, who is widely regarded along with Cheslin Kolbe, Damian Willemse and Darcy Graham as the best side-walkers in world rugby, was restrained.
When the Irish kicked the ball to Piutau, one of the two wings, James Lowe or Mack Hansen, put pressure on Piutau. Piutau beat them with ease with nimble sidesteps, but then ran into a second line of three defenders.
The Irish strangled Tonga in the set pieces and made sure their possession was not on the front foot.
Irish locks Tadgh Beirne and James Ryan were excellent and the front row scrummed solidly.
The Irish fly-forwards, Josh van der Flier, O’Mahony and Caelan Doris, slowed down the Tongans’ possession and put pressure on the fly-half William Havili… just as the Boks did in the clash with Scotland when Finn Russell was strangled.
Irish inside center Bundee Aki was also brilliant and got over the advantage line countless times. He was certainly not just a battering ram and scored two tries with his great speed.
But the big star was 38-year-old Sexton.
If the Goats manage to curb him, the battle is halfway won, but if he is allowed to pull the strings, it could be dark for the Goats.
Ireland 59 (31): Tries: Bundee Aki (2), Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris, Mack Hansen, Johnny Sexton, James Lowe, Rob Herring. Goals: Johnny Sexton (4), Ross Byrne (4). Penalty: Sexton.
Tonga 16 (13): Three: Vaea Fifita. Goal kick: William Havili. Penalty goals: Havili (3).