A late penalty from Johnny Sexton saw Ireland through for a narrow win in a scrappy match against Scotland on Sunday afternoon at Murrayfield.
Ireland’s win ends Scotland’s hopes of championship success and leaves Ireland in an unlikely second place in the tournament as the teams prepare to go into the “first” final weekend.
Scotland (10) 24
TRY: Finn Russell, Huw Jones, Hamish Watson
CON: Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg (2)
PEN: Finn Russell
Ireland (14) 27
TRY: Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Beirne
CON: Johnny Sexton
PEN: Johnny Sexton
I’d predicted Scotland winning this one with a late comeback after being smothered by Ireland for 60 minutes but, although Ireland held up their side of the bargain, Scotland never really fired, their enforced 4 week break leaving them very rusty.
Ireland looked to take advantage from the first whistle and the Irish forwards bludgeoned their Scottish counterparts for an early penalty, converted by Sexton on the 3rd minute.
The visitors continued to dominate the early exchanges and, with the Scottish lineout misfiring, Ireland parked themselves in the Scottish red zone until a speculative, penalty advantage, cross field kick by Sexton was eventually claimed by Robbie Henshaw for an unconverted try on the 7th minute giving Ireland an 8 – 0 lead.
Scotland were hapless in an error strewn opening quarter but they did manage to open their account on the 11th minute with a Finn Russell penalty to take the score to 3 – 8 but with the game played at such a hectic pace both sides struggled to find the composure to do anything creative, the main difference between sides being Ireland’s dominance of the lineouts.
After being battered up front for most of the opening half hour Scotland finally got a break on the 27th minute when a break down the left was played on by Stuart Hogg’s chin for the Scottish captain to chip the ball infield for Russell to collect and stroll under the posts. A quick check upstairs from Romain Poite and the try stood. Russel knocking over the conversion to give Scotland an unlikely 10 – 8 lead on the 27th minute.
The hosts probably enjoyed the better of the rest of the half but it all came crashing down around their hapless lineout and Ireland worked two more penalties, both converted by Sexton, to take a 10 – 14 lead into the break.
The second half was similar to the first with the hard working Irish pack getting on top and on the 48th minute, the hardest working of them all, Tadhg Beirne, crashed over from close range for Ireland’s second score. Sexton added the conversion and five minutes later he stepped up for his 4th penalty to give Ireland a 10 – 24 lead.
Scotland came storming back at the start of the third quarter with replacement Huw Jones strolling through a misaligned James Lowe and Hugo Keenan to score out wide with his first touch of the ball. Hogg took over the kicking duties to add the conversion and take it to a one score game with the score at 17 – 24 in Ireland’s favour.
Scotland sniffed their chance and they battered away at a tiring Ireland, whose lineout became less dominant as the replacements came on. After a period of extended pressure close to the Irish line the impressive Hamish Watson wriggled over on the 73rd minute for their third try, converged by Hogg, to tie the game at 24 all.
However, Ireland worked one last chance. A charge down by Ryan Baird saw Iain Henderson all over Ali Price for a penalty to be awarded. Still plenty to do for Sexton, but he knocked it over with some aplomb to give Ireland their second win of the tournament.
SCOTLAND: Stuart Hogg (C), Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Rory Sutherland, George Turner, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson. Replacements: David Cherry, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Huw Jones, Darcy Graham.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Jonathan Sexton (C), Jamison Gibson-Park, Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, CJ Stander. Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Jordan Larmour.
It was a strange game. Ireland were certainly fired up for this one and the forwards put in a huge effort, though they have done that in every game in the series so far. I’d say there are a few hitting PB’s for workrate throughout this series and we’ll be looking at that after the tournament ends.
Outside of the pack there has been limited success and I wonder how that will leave them next week should their English counterparts hit their stride.