Inaccurate Ireland in a good place with scope to head to an even better one

Bonus point win comes through scores from Sheehan, Healy, van der Flier and Murray

Ireland 26 Scotland 5

When a team can again rue inaccuracies and missed opportunities while recording a fourth bonus point win in the championship, it suggests they are in a pretty good place and heading towards an even better one.

As it is, their final tally of 24 tries was the highest in this year's Six Nations and also by an Irish side in championship history, eclipsing the 20 scored in the 2018 Grand Slam.

Once again there were some passages of mesmerisingly creative and sharp interchange between Irish backs and forwards alike, and all at a breakneck tempo. A prime example was first Iain Henderson and then Tadhg Furlong taking the ball as first receivers in a three-man pod and pulling the ball back for Johnny Sexton in successive plays.


On the latter occasion, the Irish captain linked with Caelan Doris and Jack Conan then found James Lowe on the edge. The work-rate off the ball and connections had Scottish defenders turned sideways and grasping at shadows. It didn't lead directly to a score, but two penalties later Dan Sheehan hit Henderson and the maul was perfectly set up for the hooker to explode off the back and score his second Test try.

In 27 games for Leinster and Ireland, of which this was only his ninth start, Sheehan has scored 15 tries. He has taken to Test match rugby like the proverbial duck to water. Along with his excellent darts, Sheehan’s footwork, pace and dynamic carrying has made light of Ronan Kelleher’s injury.

Sheehan is a modern day Test match animal who, as a hooker, actually gives this team additional X-factor. In barely an hour on the pitch, Sheehan made 14 carries and 11 tackles, many of them meaty. He again exploded off a stagnant maul to generate go-forward ball out of nothing, and latched onto Cian Healy for the second try when Ireland resorted to the bludgeon rather than the rapier with a sequence of one-off runners.

In this and much else, there was plenty of variety to Ireland’s attack, with Jamison Gibson-Park and Sexton constantly probing and switching the point of attack, as when the halves went blind and Sexton chipped for Hansen to chase.

At such a high tempo and with the Scots in resolute mood, there’ll always be mistakes, and there were also a few moves which floundered on inaccurate passes or catches. Indeed, Sexton worked a cut-back with Gibson-Park but didn’t give the pass to James Lowe on his inside when the winger also had Sheehan alongside him and the try would probably have followed. Sexton took a double hit for his troubles too.

The beating heart of this performance in many ways once again was Gibson-Park. His decision-making, whether going blind, sniping or tapping a penalty, was invariably right and his box kicking has rarely been better.

He set the tone with a 20 metre pass across his own goal to find Garry Ringrose with a free play. After his brilliantly taken try in Paris, we’ve seen more of Gibson-Park’s electric carrying as he made a couple of breaks and carried six times for 89 metres. At times, he was almost too quick for his own teammates.

The scrum-half unveiled his full repertoire, a prime example being when tapping another quick penalty and breaking, before weighing up his options and executing a deft left-footed, sideways grubber for Mack Hansen.

The latter did superbly to keep the ball in play and had another fine game, not least with some key defensive reads and tackles late on. Nothing summed up what Andy Farrell wants from his wingers more than the sight of both Hansen and Lowe coming in off their wings to link at the fringe of a ruck, generating the momentum which culminated in Josh van der Flier's fine finish.

Van der Flier again had another huge match, which nowadays is almost just taken for granted. As ever, he led the Irish tackle count (15),

Remarkably, this was his ninth try in 16 games for province or country this season.

At the end, you almost had to double check to confirm that Scotland only scored five points. With nothing to lose, they made five line breaks to Ireland’s three, broke 23 tackles to Ireland’s ten and left chances behind themselves, notably when Stuart Hogg, now vastly experienced, opted not to pass inside to Sam Johnson, as the 22-year-old Ange Capuozzo did for Edoardo Padovani’s match-winning try in Cardiff in just his second Six Nations game.

That said, Hugo Keenan, made a phenomenal tackle to deny Hogg.

Scotland were more up for the physical battle than they have been on other occasions in their current seven-game losing streak against Ireland; flankers Hamish Watson and Rory Darge made 40 tackles between them.

Yet despite an entertaining contest between two sides full of attacking intent, once again the Aviva Stadium bore no comparison to the cauldrons of Twickenham and Stade de France, before finally rousing themselves and the team in the last ten minutes, as the search for a bonus point try intensified.

Beating heart though Gibson-Park is, Conor Murray reminded us of his qualities when bringing such composure to the endgame in Twickenham, and as there it was Murray’s snipe and pass to Lowe off a maul which led to a fourth five-point haul.

Such was the desire for that fourth try that Robbie Henshaw, Rob Herring and Sexton (who else?) formed an off the cuff maul to drive Lowe toward the line, before Murray called for the offload and finished strongly.

It was Murray’s 15th try for Ireland, ending a run of 25 games without one dating back to the win over Italy in February 2019. He’s not done for yet.

Scoring sequence: 17 mins Sheehan try, Sexton con 7-0; 28 mins Healy try, Sexton con 14-0; 35 mins Schoeman try 14-5; (half-time 14-5); 60 mins van der Flier try, Sexton con 21-5; 79 mins Murray try 26-5.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD), Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary's College, capt), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster); Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf), Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf); Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne), Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy); Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary's College, Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD),

Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere).

Replacements: Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) for Healy, Peter O'Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) (both 52 mins), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) for Aki (56 mins), Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) for Sheehan, Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) (both 63 mins), Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) for Gibson-Park (63 mins), Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) for Furlong (68 mins), Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) for Keenan (74 mins),

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Exeter); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow); Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Ali Price (Glasgow); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow); Jonny Gray (Exeter), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh); Rory Darge (Glasgow), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow).

Replacements: Fraser Brown (Glasgow) for Turner, Sam Skinner (Exeter) for Gilchrist (both 51 mins), WP Nel (Edinburgh) for Z Fagerson (55 mins), Ben White (London Irish) for Price, Mark Bennett (Edinburgh) for Johnson (both 61 mins), Josh Bayliss (Bath) for M Fagerson (63 mins), Finn Russell (Racing 92) for Harris (67 mins), Allan Dell (London Irish) for Schoeman (74 mins).

Yellow card: White (78 mins)

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times