Scotland withstood an Ireland onslaught to claim a well deserved 27-22 win at Murrayfield on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Ireland will look at the stats from this opening 2017 Six Nations match and wonder how they lost it. The visitors had 58% of the possession and 62% of the territory, and only had to make 107 tackles compared to Scotland's 181.
Ireland trailed 21-5 after 29 minutes but fought back well to lead 22-21 after 63. At that stage, all the momentum was with the men in green as they launched wave after wave of attack, but Scotland hung on, with two late penalties from captain Greig Laidlaw securing victory.
It is the first time since 2006 that Scotland have won their opening match of the Six Nations.
Ireland dominated possession in the first quarter, with their powerful pack winning three penalties at scrum time.
Yet it was Scotland who raced into a 14-0 lead thanks to two converted tries from Stuart Hogg. The fullback cantered over from close range to score his first, and grabbed his second after throwing a dummy – that forced Rob Kearney to focus on the outside man – before cutting back inside. Laidlaw slotted both conversions.
Ireland had come close to scoring a try before then, but were penalised for accidental offsides when their maul separated close to the line. However, they did finally convert all that pressure into points when Keith Earls dived over in the left-hand corner for an unconverted try.
Scotland, though, hit straight back, when centre Alex Dunbar received a short lineout throw and, with Ireland's forwards caught off-guard, went over for his side's third try. Laidlaw once again nailed the conversion to make it 21-5.
Jackson clawed three points back for Ireland with a penalty goal, but it was Scotland who finished the half pushing hard for a fourth try, and what would have been the first ever try-scoring Six Nations bonus point.
The Scots were forced to make 77 tackles in the first half, and that tally increased dramatically during the first five minutes of the second, as Ireland took the ball through 20 phases. The attack ended with a knock-on, but the referee was playing advantage and Ireland opted to scrum from the penalty 5m out.
Scotland's scrum held its ground, but their defence was finally broken after another 10-phase attack saw Iain Henderson go over from close range to narrow the gap to six.
Ireland continued to pile on the pressure and looked set to score again on the 57-minute mark when Conor Murray raced away following a charge down and found Jamie Heaslip, but his pass was intercepted. Soon after, a good tackle from Sean Maitland forced Kearney into touch just before he offloaded to Earls, who thought he had scored his second try.
But the visitors were finally rewarded when Paddy Jackson ran the perfect line between two defenders, and was able to place the ball over the tryline after being tackled. The flyhalf slotted the conversion to put his side ahead for the first time in the match.
Scotland, though, regained the lead with eight minutes to go when Laidlaw kicked his first penalty goal.
The captain chose not to kick for posts again when his side were awarded a 77th-minute penalty for a high tackle, opting instead to go for the corner and stay deep in Ireland territory. It was a smart move as the hosts were awarded another penalty with a minute to go.
This time Laidlaw went for goal, wound down the clock, and sealed a famous victory.
Scotland – Tries: Stuart Hogg (2), Alex Dunbar. Conversions: Greig Laidlaw (3). Penalties: Laidlaw (2).
Ireland – Tries: Keith Earls, Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson. Conversions: Jackson (2). Penalty: Jackson.
Scotland – 16 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell.
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 John Barclay, 21 Ali Price, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Photo: Stu Foster/Getty Images