Ireland dig deep as Johnny Sexton seals win over Scotland

Andy Farrell’s side gave up a 24-10 lead before captain kicked the winning penalty

Johnny Sexton, Irish captain speaks at the post match press conference following Ireland’s 27-24 defeat of Scotland at Murrayfield. Video: IRFU/VOTN

 

Scotland 24 Ireland 27

Although Johnny Sexton revealed afterwards that the wind was tricky, the foreboding weather forecast never materialised. What did transpire was at times something like a step back in time between these two. In truth Ireland made heavy weather of sealing a wild, helter-skelter game and not for the first time were indebted to Sexton once more for a nerveless match-winning penalty.

The set pieces and breakdown work were exceptional, with Ireland stealing a staggering seven Scottish throw-ins which, coupled with the excellence of the kick-chase game, kept Scotland mostly at arm’s length for an hour.

Although Ireland’s kicking game was a little mixed they dominated in the air, whether through the brilliant chasing of Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls or the security of Hugo Keenan at the back.

But considering all of that, and so many dominant spells in both possession and territory, not to mention having built up a hard-earned 24-10 lead, to then somehow be level with five minutes remaining was disappointing.

Admittedly, the Scots were always more capable of conjuring a try out of nothing in a way that was beyond Ireland, but there was some lamentable defending, as well as the line speed deserting them, to invite Scotland back into the game.

There were some mighty individual performances, and it would have been an injustice if Iain Henderson hadn’t been on the winning side. Aside from his lineout work, carrying and 21 tackles, he had the energy and determination to earn the match-winning penalty.

Robbie Henshaw competes in the air with Stuart Hogg. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Robbie Henshaw competes in the air with Stuart Hogg. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Ditto Will Connors (10 carries for 54 metres as well as his latest exhibition of tackling), CJ Stander (17 carries for 83 metres to mark his half century), Henshaw, Earls and, naturally, Sexton.

Fast starts have been a feature of Scotland’s opening two games, but this time Ireland were quicker out of the traps.

Using the full width on both sides of the pitch off Rob Herring’s first dart to Henderson; Sexton, Henshaw and Beirne, with particularly quick hands under pressure, released Lowe to beat Ali Price on the left and slip the ball inside to the supporting.

A try looked on and, in the end, Finn Russell conceding a three-pointer close to the line when not rolling away after 11 phases was a better outcome for the Scots.

But after a Ryan steal and good carries by Henderson and Stander, Sexton followed up that opening penalty with a huge Garryowen on Stuart Hogg. Henshaw managed to navigate the clusters of blue in front of him to time his jump and beat Hogg in the air to the ball. James Ryan reclaimed the ball and a phase later Sexton crosskicked to the in-goal area where Earls competed with Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe for the bouncing ball which broke for Henshaw, following up, to score.

Sexton’s conversion hit the post and, after Russell opened Scotland’s account when Tadhg Furlong was pinged for not releasing quickly enough in the tackle, Ireland opted for the corner. Having turned down three points they really should have scored seven but Jamison Gibson-Park didn’t break off the maul sooner and when he did, Hamish Watson was immovable over the ball to earn a relieving penalty.

A couple of fine defensive sets by Ireland, stretched by Russell’s passing and kick passes, were intermingled by a couple of outrageous steps inside his own 22 by Furlong, which completely outwitted George Turner and Russell.

But the looseness was playing into Scottish hands.

Ireland engineered another turnover through Stander, but Garry Ringrose promptly kicked the ball into Hogg’s chest. In attempting to regather, the ball came back off Hogg’s chin before he poked it infield. Russell beat the retreating Herring to the loose ball by poking it forward and regathering off James Lowe’s hand to complete a slightly farcical try which he converted to nudge Scotland ahead. It typified the first half.

Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne scores a try during the Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne scores a try during the Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

At least another good box kick by Gibson-Park and chase by Earls led to Beirne winning a penalty in the jackal which, in turn, led to Sexton restoring the lead from 36 metres. After Russell missed from similar range, Ireland then had more joy from good field position and being direct with good carries by Ringrose, Beirne and Henderson luring Price offside for Sexton to make it 14-10 at the break.

Six points in the last five minutes of the first-half was augmented by seven within 10 of the restart for Ireland after twice having the conviction to turn down three-pointers and go to the corner.

Strong carries by Henderson, Stander and Connors off the ball and clear-outs by Furlong, Ringrose and Ryan presented the ball on a plate for Gibson-Park before Beirne was helped over the line by Herring.

Sexton converted and added a penalty from more direct carrying to make it 24-17, whereupon Russell found touch in goal with a long penalty to the corner. Given their woeful lineout, that was a blessing, especially when Gibson-Park let Price take the ball off him for a quick tap off the indirect penalty.

Two phases later Hogg steamed onto Russell’s pass and fed the newly arrived Huw Jones, who accelerated through Lowe and what has become an all too familiar waft rather than a tackle, and stepped Gibson-Park to score. Hogg took over the kicking duties to make it a one-score game from Russell, who was promptly hooked by Gregor Townsend.

Scotland had their tails up and they attacked in waves off a crooked throw by Rónan Kelleher and a procession of tap and go penalties close to the line. An astonishing tackle by Connors to deny van der Merwe typified Ireland’s resistance, which is almost futile in these circumstances, and Hamish twisted over to score.

Hogg converted. Somehow it was level with five minutes remaining.

Enter Ryan Baird. On for Ryan (sadly it looked like another suspected concussion) five minutes earlier, Baird blocked Price’s clearance, followed up with the tackle and Henderson was over the ball for a penalty. Five metres in, almost 40 metres out, Sexton faded the ball in with the wind from the inside post to seal his 10th win in a row against the Scots.

All that remained was for Henshaw, Earls and co to chase down Gibson-Park box kicks as, finally and tellingly, they kept the home side at arm’s length again.

But in the cold light of day, they’ll wonder how they ever let it come to such a dramatic climax.

Scoring sequence: 4 mins Sexton pen 0-3; 8 mins Henshaw try 0-8; 12 mins Russell pen 3-8; 28 mins Russell try and con 10-8; 35 mins Sexton pen 10-11; 40 (+2 mins) Sexton pen 10-14;(half-time 10-14); 49 mins Beirne try, Sexton con 10-21; 55 mins Sexton pen 10-24; 60 mins Jones try, Hogg con 17-24; 74 mins Watson try, Hogg con 24-24; 77 mins Sexton pen 24-27.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg; 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: Simon Berghan for Nel, Grant Gilchrist for Gray and Huw Jones for Harris (all 55 mins), Nick Haining for Ritchie, Darcy Graham for Russell (both 63 mins), David Cherry for Turner, Jamie Bhatti for Sutherland (both 64 mins), Scott Steele for Cummings (66 mins).

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, James Ryan; Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, CJ Stander. Replacements: Dave Kilcoyne for Healy, Andrew Porter for Furlong (both 55 mins), Ronan Kelleher for Herring, Jack Conan for Beirne (both 64 mins), Jordan Larmour for Lowe (68 mins), Ryan Baird for Ryan (71 mins).

Not used: Conor Murray, Billy Burns (Ulster).

Referee: Romain Poite (France).

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