A record-breaking win was the perfect start to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign, but they are expected to face a stiffer test when taking on Tonga on Saturday evening.
Ikale Tahi have been able to draft in several former All Blacks for their campaign in France and will be up for the physical challenge that comes with facing the Irish.
But there’s a good reason Ireland are the top-ranked side in the world and they are fully focused on getting out of Nantes with a bonus-point win.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has named a strong side, making just four alterations to the team that ran in 12 tries against Romania in their opening game.
Wing Mack Hansen, scrum-half Conor Murray, hooker Ronan Kelleher and flanker Josh van der Flier all come into a side captained by Johnny Sexton, while Dave Kilcoyne and Robbie Henshaw have been added to the bench.
Tonga have named four ex-All Blacks in their team in full-back Salesi (Charles) Piutau, centre Malakai Fekitoa, scrum-half Augustine Pulu and number eight Vaea Fifita with former New Zealand Under-20 prop Ben Tameifuna a surprise choice to skipper the side ahead of Sonatane Takulua.
Ireland to win by 31 to 35 points inclusive @ 13/2
Ireland have been handed a 36-point handicap for their second pool stage game having ruthlessly dispatched Romania 82-8 last weekend.
As the Romanians melted in the Bordeaux heat, the men in green ran up the score, slightly out-of-character for a team that hadn’t broken the 40-point barrier in their previous 16 Tests.
Tonga should ask more questions of Ireland, especially with the likes of Piutau and Fekitoa in their team, but are still someway short of the standard required to upset the reigning Six Nations champions.
It’s not been an easy build-up to the World Cup for the weakest of the Pacific Islands trio in France and they’ve been well beaten in their recent meetings with tier-one nations.
Tonga’s attack has looked a little blunt at times and against a smothering Ireland defence that’s not conceded more than 20 points in the last 12 Tests, they won’t find it to put points on the board.
Ireland are unlikely to find it as easy to score tries as they did against Romania, but the margin of victory should still be relatively comfortable.
Josh van der Flier anytime tryscorer @ 6/4
Reigning World Rugby Player of the Year van der Flier can do it all, including being a very efficient carrier of the ball when called upon.
The Leinster flanker scored an impressive ten tries in 21 appearances for club and country last season and the powerful figures as a big danger to a slightly flimsy Tongan defence.
The 30-year-old has developed a nose for the try-line in recent years, bagging five tries for Ireland in the 2021/22 season, and is part of an Irish back-row that is often on the end of attacking moves, with Tadhg Beirne scoring a brace and Peter O’Mahony getting one in the win over Romania.