Ireland saw off Scotland in a game that could have scuppered Joe Schmidt’s side’s lofty ambitions of Championship success this season.
The home side endeavoured to break down a resilient stubborn Scottish defence in the opening quarter of this NatWest 6 Nations Round 4 fixture but the visitors withstood the Irish challenge.
Scotland, impressive winners of the Calcutta Cup against England a fortnight ago, took the lead through a Greig Laidlaw penalty in the 13th minute. It took Joe Schmidt’s side until the 22th minute before they registered a score, that man Jacob Stockdale again, scoring the first of a brace he would achieve on the day. The Ulster man playing in just his 8th International Test match notched up tries numbers 9 and 10 of his brief but extremely fruitful Ireland career so far. Johnny Sexton, who had shown some signs of frustration earlier in the game, remonstrating with both Rob Kearney and Conor Murray at various times during the opening quarter of the game, added the extra points with a successful conversion to Stockdale’s try.
With Scotland showing domination in terms of field possession, poor execution of passes saw the visitors fail to add to their try count with the line at their mercy. The poor pass gave Hugh Jones zero chance of collecting the ball, thus wasting a gild-edged opportunity to put his side back in front.
As the Aviva Stadium crowd became more and more frustrated with the lack of Irish progress, Bundee Aki almost claimed his third try in the green jersey of Ireland, but was unfortunately held up as he attempted to cross the line at what must be his favourite spot at the ground, just left of the left hand post where he had scored his two previous Ireland tries.
Ireland currently seems to have the ability to turn games around directly prior to half time as they did against Wales a fortnight ago at the same venue. This time it was Jacob Stockdale who comfortably crossed the try-scoring line for the second of his brace of tries. Excellent play from the returning Garry Ringrose led to the five-pointer with Stockdale touching down in the left corner. Sexton added the extras providing the home side with a 14-3 lead, one which certainly was not deserved based on their first half performance.
Halftime: Ireland 14 Scotland 3.
With Irish nerves calmed by the try just before half time, Joe Schmidt’s team began the second half knowing two further tries could potentially give them the Championship if England failed to achieve a bonus point win in Paris later in the evening. It took only six minutes for try number three to arrive. A typical Conor Murray score from close range where he burrowed through and stretched for the try-scoring line to touch down, his 12th Ireland try. With Johnny Sexton adding the conversion, Ireland had now stretched the score out to 21-3, some daylight between themselves and their Celtic cousins.
Minutes later the Scots missed another try-scoring opportunity, the second of three they butchered during the game. Blair Kinghorn, starting his first International for his country soon put things to right for the Tartan Army when the winger pulled a try back to narrow the deficit to 13 points. Laidlaw narrowly failed to add the conversion as his attempt saw the ball bounce off the crossbar and go wide of the left hand post.
When referee Wayne Barnes awarded Ireland a penalty in the 65th minute, the key decision makers on the team had a serious discussion before it was decided to kick for the posts. Unfortunately on this occasion, Sexton’s effort went astray as it veered left and wide of the posts.
Seán Cronin, who had replaced Ireland’s ever-industrious captain Rory Best, was only on the field three minutes when he clinched the bonus point try for his side. Sexton’s successful kick, the final score of the game, meant Ireland had a comfortable 28-8 winning margin.
Once an Irish win was obvious, Joe Schmidt wisely took off key players with a view to next Saturday’s trip to Twickenham in mind. As a result both Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy returned to International action, while Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour all gained further crucial experience at Test level when they replaced Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and Man of the Match Rob Kearney respectively.
Ireland now head to Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day with the NatWest 6 Nations Championship already clinched but with a Triple Crown and Grand Slam still at stake.
Final score: Ireland 28 Scotland 8.