Ireland grind past Scotland but miss out on a bonus point

First half tries from Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale set the visitors on their way

Keith Earls of Ireland scores his side’s third try during the Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Graham Stuart/PA Wire

Keith Earls of Ireland scores his side’s third try during the Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Graham Stuart/PA Wire

 

Scotland 13 Ireland 22

Still not back to anything like their best, a weary-looking Ireland will be grateful for the two-week break before facing Italy in Rome after rolling their sleeves up to eventually wear down Scotland.

Their collective confidence clearly took a knock with last week’s beating by England, but their collective will hasn’t dimmed. Despite failing to clinically turn the screw as they normally do, they controlled enough of the match, and the second-half especially when they had almost 70 per cent possession and over 70 per cent territory, to win by two clear scores.

Their superb set-pieces, and discipline, were in many ways the foundations for this restorative win, and in addition to a perfect 11 from 11 return off their own throws, they ate into the Scottish lineout in stealing three balls.

Admittedly, the Scots emulated England in not committing defenders unduly at ruck time and maintaining a blue wall which was mostly impenetrable. Ireland were made to look a tad blunt, and their biggest regret was not being able to tag on a bonus point try after securing their third before the hour mark.

There was a palpable strut and swagger to Scotland’s early play, but this had been eroded long before the end as Ireland turned the screw and, then being forced to play from behind off scraps, their play became increasingly ragged.

Conor Murray is blocked by Greig Laidlaw of Scotland as he attempts a kick. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Conor Murray is blocked by Greig Laidlaw of Scotland as he attempts a kick. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

There were two injuries to key men in either side, with Scotland losing Stuart Hogg and much of their inspiration to an early shoulder injury, while Ireland lost Johnny Sexton and, for a while, some of their direction, after he was targeted by Scottish forwards with several late hits.

But in fairness to Joey Carbery, after conceding an intercept try, he retained his composure and came up with a big play in eventually steering Ireland over the winning line.

Seán O’Brien had a really good return, carrying hard, making tackles and making his presence felt at the breakdown without any great reward from Romain Poite. Peter O’Mahony, used closer to the action than last week, had a much more proactive outing, with James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy also contributing to Ireland’s relentless carrying.

Jack Conan, Ryan, O’Brien, Healy and Bundee Aki all contributed to a big defensive shift which eventually sucked the marrow out of Scotland’s attack.

After the anthems, in which Flower of Scotland was sung without music by the crowd, the home side were quickly into their stride, using the width of the pitch and bringing Stuart Hogg into the game, after Josh Strauss bumped Aki’s tackle.

They went to the corner when Sexton was pinged for a high tackle on Ryan Wilson but took the three points when Aki went for a poach after Poite deemed the ruck had formed.

Ireland were given access into Scottish territory when Huw Jones knocked on Sexton’s hanging restart by the touchline. The contrast in their one-off carrying game was immediately striking, but they caught Scotland out when pulling the trigger and going wide for the first time, Earls feeding Sexton whose skip pass released Jacob Stockdale.

Tommy Seymour recovered to gather StOckdale’s chip but his pass inside to Sean Maitland was unsympathetic and the latter’s knock bounced nicely for Conor Murray, following up, to score his 13th test try.

The only downside to this gift was that Murray didn’t hear Earls’ entreaties to run in by the posts to narrow the conversion and, after taking more treatment, he steered the kick wide.

After Murray kicked out on the full, Sexton read and intercepted Russell’s pass and offloaded to Chris Farrell for him to kick downfield shortly after Hogg’s departure.

This eventually led to the lineout on halfway from which Farrell trucked it up. O’Mahony took the ball as first receiver before working a switch with Sexton and his inside pass put Stockdale through to score off a sweetly constructed strike move.

Sexton recieves medical treatment before being withdrawn at half-time. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Sexton recieves medical treatment before being withdrawn at half-time. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

The downside this time was that after taking the ball to the line and releasing Stockdale, Sexton took another big, late hit by Scottish prop Allan Dell. While he was being treated again, Murray took the conversion.

Sexton slipped off a tackle on Jones, but Russell unwisely tapped a penalty rather than kick it into the corner and Ireland were alert to the danger, Rory Best receiving grateful pats on his helmet for pushing up and forcing a spillage.

Cue the Irish crowd’s first rendition of The Fields of Athenry.

But their high spirits were dampened when a bloodied Sexton departed to be replaced by Carbery after another big, late hit by Wilson. Murray made a try-saving covering tackle on Seymour from Russell’s chip, although play was then brought back for Jones’ forward pass.

Carbery was nicely into the game, working a wraparound, and good hands by Aki and O’Brien allowed O’Mahony to chip up field. But in another early involvement, Carbery’s intended skip pass to Best was picked off by Russell, and although he was chased down by Earls the outhalf popped the ball off the deck for the supporting Jones to score. Laidlaw landed a good conversion.

In fairness to the lively Russell, it was a superb read.

After Murray overcooked another box kick again, Stockdale brilliantly read a typically impish chip by Russell to prevent another try by Jones. When Seymour chipped in behind the Irish defence, the ball ricocheted off the knee of a sliding Carbery, forcing Earls to concede an attacking lineout.

From a resulting five metre scrum, Ireland’s defence put in a superb set of 25 phases, before O’Brien and Quinn Roux snaffled a loose ball to end the siege. Their 12-10 interval lead was both a relief and, on the balance of play, a little fortunate.

Ireland were much more purposeful in the third quarter, and on the front foot as they began to find some rhythm in their recycling game but were continually undone by turnovers, a couple of loose passes by Murray compounded by Stuart McInally ripping the ball from Tadhg Furlong.

But the Scots couldn’t make them pay, Russell delaying his release and then passing forward to Rob Harley before Kearney began to influence the game hugely with three huge, strong carries, albeit he ought to have released Stockdale from the first of them.

Another handling error seemed to have undone another attack when O’Brien’s pass went to ground behind Carbery. But as so often happens, it put the defence off their guard, and after gathering and turning, Carbery slipped through two tackles to break clear. He then had the heads-up awareness, composure and skill to float a lovely pass into the path of Earls, for the winger to score.

Keith Earls of Ireland scores his side’s third try during the Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Keith Earls of Ireland scores his side’s third try during the Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Carbery converted, and after a fine Laidlaw penalty against Aki for going off his feet following a clean poach by Ritchie, Carbery backed up his own fine take to restore Ireland’s two score lead after a punishing 26-phase attack yielded a penalty against Strauss for clearly not rolling away after a tackle on Josh van der Flier.

Ireland couldn’t convert another attack after Ritchie came in from the side to prevent Ultan Dillane poaching the ball. Dillane also manufactured a lineout steal before the game petered out anti-climactically in the middle of the pitch as both sides came up short of a bonus point.

Scoring sequence: 7 mins Laidlaw pen; 10 mins Murray try 3-5; 17 mins Stockdale try, Murray con 3-12; 29 mins Jones try, Laidlaw con 10-12; (half-time 10-12); 56 mins Earls try, Carbery con 10-19; 62 mins Laidlaw pen 13-19; 69 mins Carbery pen 13-22.

SCOTLAND: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (Saracens); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne) (capt); Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks).

Replacements: Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh) for Hogg (16 mins), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors) for Ritchie (35-40 mins and for Wilson (half-time), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for McInally, Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors) for Johnson (both 64 mins), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) for Dell, D’Arcy Rae (Glasgow Warriors) for Berghan, Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) for Laidlaw (all 69 mins). Not used: Ben Toolis (Edinburgh).

IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster), Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster), Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), James Ryan (UCD/Leinster), Quinn Roux (Galwegians/Connacht), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster).

Replacements: Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) for Sexton 24 mins), Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Healy (57 mins), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) for O’Brien (64 mins), Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) for Best, Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) for Stockdale (both 72 mins), Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) for Furlong, Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) for Roux (both 68 mins), John Cooney (Terenure College/Ulster) for Murray (77 mins).

Referee: Romain Poite (France).

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