Ireland overcame a physical Scotland side to win 22-13 at Murrayfield on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The pressure was on Ireland to deliver a performance of substance following their limp display in the 32-20 defeat to England. Their Six Nations title hopes – as well as their hopes of scoring a psychological blow against Scotland before the World Cup pool meeting in Japan later this year – were on the line.
Ireland were fortunate in that a fiery Scotland side failed to translate many of its opportunities into points. Scotland troubled Ireland at the gainline and found space behind the defence with several well-aimed kicks, but still trailed the visitors 12-10 at half-time.
By contrast, Ireland made the most of their chances and were quick to punish Scottish mistakes. Tommy Seymour put his side under pressure when he tracked a bouncing ball back and then attempted to find a teammate with a wild pass. Conor Murray reacted quickly to regather possession, and Ireland scored the first try against the run of play.
Johnny Sexton found Jacob Stockdale with a neat inside pass to set up Ireland’s second try. Sexton was well marked otherwise, though. In fact, after sustaining several big hits, the veteran flyhalf was forced to leave the field with an injury in the 23rd minute.
Sexton’s replacement, Joey Carbery, made an early mistake to hand Scotland back the initiative. Finn Russell read the play well to intercept Carbery’s pass and race towards the line. Keith Earls chased down the flyhalf, but couldn’t stop Russell from finding Sam Johnson with an inspired offload.
Ireland finished the half strongly though, to ensure that they went to the break with the lead. Scotland took the ball through 25 phases, but did not penetrate the emerald green wall.
Scotland picked up where Ireland left off. The hosts repelled wave after wave of Irish attack and eventually forced a turnover. Former Lions captain Josh Strauss had a massive game on defence, completing 26 tackles to help Scotland rattle Ireland at the collisions.
But just when it seemed as if Scotland would not be breached, Carbery busted through two Scotland forwards to take play deep into opposition territory.
The replacement flyhalf spun a long pass to Earls, who finished the movement. Carbery’s conversion ensured that Ireland extended their lead to nine points.
Greig Laidlaw kicked a penalty in the 62nd minute to bring his side back within striking distance. Scotland failed to keep Ireland at bay though, and it wasn’t long before Carbery restored the visitors’ commanding advantage.
Ireland will remain in the Six Nations title race. They will need to improve a great deal, though – especially on attack – if they are going to win their remaining fixtures and challenge the better teams at the World Cup later this year.
Scotland – Try: Sam Johnson. Conversion: Greig Laidlaw. Penalty: Laidlaw (2).
Ireland – Tries: Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls. Conversions: Johnny Sexton, Joey Carbery. Penalty: Carbery.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Rob Harley, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 James Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 John Cooney, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP