An inspired performance by Ireland’s new captain Jonathan Sexton opened their Six Nations campaign with a hard-fought 19-12 win over Scotland in Dublin on Saturday.
A much-more determined Scotland team took the field than the one that crashed out of the World Cup in Japan in October last year.
The visitors started brightly at the Aviva Stadium through a Adam Hastings penalty, but his counterpart, Sexton, went over for the game’s first five-pointer a few moments later.
A brilliantly worked move involved a forwards decoy and a wraparound before another decoy runner created a massive gap for Sexton to run in and score.
Scotland kept the Irish on their toes, however, and their forwards fronted up well to the physical battle.
Another penalty to each flyhalf gave the home team a narrow 10-6 lead at the break.
Scotland, though, thought they had their first try after some good hands by Ali Price and Hastings sent captain Stuart Hogg over in the corner. However, the fullback tried to ground the ball with one hand, losing control and Ireland were off the hook.
The two flyhalves continued to trade penalties but it was the 2018 Six Nations champions who began to take firm control as the final quarter wore on.
Errors started to creep into Scotland’s game with the Irish bench also making a significant impact, which forced penalties upon their opponents.
Two more penalty kicks by Sexton provided some breathing space for Ireland as Scotland’s forwards ran out of gas.
In the end it was the flyhalf’s try and boot that proved the ultimate difference against a Scotland team that had their chances to get something from the match.
Ireland – Try: Jonathan Sexton. Conversion: Sexton. Penalties: Sexton (4).
Scotland – Penalties: Adam Hastings (4).
Subs: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg (c), 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Blair Kinghorn, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Nick Haining, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Rory Sutherland. Subs: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 George Horne, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Chris Harris.