Ireland made to fight tooth and nail to beat Scotland
New era for Irish rugby up and running as Scotland narrowly beaten in Dublin Six Nations opener
The dawn of the Andy Farrell era yielded a win, which leaves everything else in the shade, if not quite in the manner hoped or expected. Unlike the sides’ World Cup pool opener or Scotland’s previous four visits to Dublin, Ireland never at any point pulled more than a score clear and couldn’t shake off the visitors, who were like a dog with a bone.
Ultimately, Ireland owed more to their defensive defiance than anything else for their victory.
The Scots had done their homework and stymied Ireland’s trademark strengths at source. Mathieu Raynal allowed something of a loose French free-for-all at the breakdown, as Hamish Watson and co consistently spoiled or slowed down Irish ruck ball until the referee finally began officiating the area in the second-half.
The Irish pack achieved unusually slim dividends from their attacking lineout mauls, as the Scots declined to compete and repeatedly sacked the drive before it gathered any momentum.
Yet regrets, the Scots will have a mountain full. In addition to their ill-discipline, they failed to convert a host of forays into the Irish 22 and, lamentably, their captain Stuart Hogg left a try behind when failing to complete a nonchalant one-handed touchdown with no-one near him. And well though Adam Hastings played in his first Six Nations start, it's hard to believe that Scotland wouldn't have converted all those visits deep inside the Irish 22 into the currency of tries had the suspended Finn Russell been pulling the strings.
The game had started unpromisingly when Caelan Doris’ debut was prematurely ended through concussion inside the first five minutes. It was a terrible shame, which added to the subdued atmosphere early on, but the emergence and selection of the 21-year-old Leinsterman certainly seemed to energise both CJ Stander, who reverted to number eight, and Peter O’Mahony, who replaced Doris.
Stander, especially, was immense over the ball in augmenting 16 carries and 17 tackles, a figure matched by James Ryan and almost so by the tireless Josh van der Flier, whose tackling and jackaling were also huge in defence.
But, with the Grand Slam holders Wales liable to be far less profligate visitors next Saturday, in addition to Doris, there was also the disconcerting sight for Farrell and co of Garry Ringrose, Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong also departing injured.
Doris had been quick to make his first positive involvement in test rugby when, having already made one tackle in Scotland’s first 10-plus phase attack he then earned a turnover penalty in the jackal.
Cruelly though, in Scotland’s next phased attack, he was knocked out when tackling Hastings, whose head clashed with the jaw of the Irish number eight. Less than three and a half minutes had elapsed and although down to 14 men, Ireland kept the Scots out while Doris was being treated by two medics before Ryan was pinged for not rolling away.
O’Mahony replaced Doris, meaning Ireland were now playing with 14 of the starting XV which set about the Scots in the 27-3 World Cup pool win in Yokohama, before Hastings tapped over the penalty.
Doris was at least able to walk off unaided, although this sad sight compounded an already muted atmosphere. But Ireland’s response was telling. The lively Jordan Larmour made a clean break when ghosting onto Johnny Sexton’s pull back and found the supporting Conor Murray. A few phases later Scotland’s debutant eight, Nick Haining, pounced on a loose ball, but Van der Flier couldn’t be shifted in earning a penalty.
Akin to Yokohama, Sexton opted for the corner and was rewarded handsomely as Ireland’s first attacking foray again yielded a try. The pack kept it tight off the maul before pulling the trigger to telling effect. Setting up another close-in carry, Cian Healy instead pulled the ball back for Murray whose skip pass behind Larmour’s decoy run opened the gap for Sexton to score. He also landed a fine conversion in the kind of start he possibly daren’t have dreamed of this week.
However, a couple of questionable penalties followed against Ireland. First, Healy was pinged at the first scrum, when in fact Zander Fagerson seemed to lose his footing initially, for Hastings to make 7-6 with a good strike. Then Raynal seemed to miss Van der Flier forcing a spillage before Hastings kicked an ensuing penalty long into the corner.
Ireland forced a turnoer at the lineout, and O’Mahony then stole Scotland’s next throw, before a Hastings cross kick earned the Scots another attacking platform. After Sam Johnson carried through Van der Flier’s tackle, O’Mahony stayed strong in winning a turnover two metres from the Irish line.
Ireland seemed to be in business again after a bit charge by Stander, when Larmour made inroads wide left and then Ringrose brilliantly offloaded inside to Conway, but Pascal Gauzere had spotted some obstruction by Ireland.
The crowd were enraged when Hogg seemed to hand trip Larmour after the full-back countered and chipped, replays seemingly confirming that the Scottish fullback’s attempted tackle was well after the ball left Larmour’s boot. Instead, Sexton knocked on in covering Hastings’ kick into space. At least it enlivened the crowd, all the more so when a big hit by Iain Henderson was backed up by Stander pouncing on the ensuing loose ball.
Although Ryan was penalised for sealing off, Hastings was wide with the 45 metre penalty. Instead, a superb hanging restart by Sexton was brilliantly re-gathered by Stockdale, who bounced to his feet and carried into the Scottish half. When Price blatantly infringed at a ruck, it was a measure of Ireland’s difficulties that from almost exactly the same spot from which he’d earlier kicked to the corner, this time the Irish captain opted for and landed the restorative penalty for a 10-6 lead.
For once Ireland then had some joy from a Murray box kick to Hogg close to the touchline. His long pass infield to Hastings led to a fine follow up tackle by Rob Herring and Jonny Gray, not very discreetly, sealed from the side. But this time, from a similar range, Sexton surprisingly missed to the left.
Instead, Johnson picked off a pass from Murray to hare into the Irish half before being chased down by Larmour. Even so, after Hastings again crosskicked and the jinking Hogg offloaded inside, the Irish defence was again indebted to another superb turnover penalty earned by Stander over the ball.
Another demoted player with a point to prove, Robbie Henshaw, replaced Ringrose at the break to renew his partnership with Bundee Aki and on the resumption Murray engineered a penalty when passing into the dithering Hamish Watson, and when Ireland launched Aki off the lineout in the corner, James Ritchie clearly lay on the wrong side of the ball. Raynal finally policed the breakdown and Sexton tapped over the penalty.
But the Scots would not go away. Ryan’s line speed led to Price kicking aimlessly towards the Irish line, but Conway’s counter with Larmour backfired when the latter stepped on the touchline. Scotland looked sure to score a try, and did, but didn’t, when Price and Maitland combined to give Hogg what should have been a routine finish. But, attempting to nonchalantly touch down one-handed, unforgivably the Scottish captain let the ball slip from his right hand.
As with Doris, Kilcoyne’s introduction lasted barely a minute after his clash with Rory Sutherland’s head meant an immediate return for Healy before Hastings made it 13-9 with the consolation penalty.
Ireland couldn’t establish real control, but once again Scotland’s ill-discipline cost them and the penalty count would finish 14-9. This time a clothes-line tackle by Hastings on Sexton led to the captain kicking to the corner once more from 40 metres out. Another failure to roll away, this time by McInally, ought to have led to a yellow card for persistent infringing, all the more so as Raynal had warned Hogg to that effect just beforehand. In any event, Sexton’s penalty restored the seven-point lead.
Conway then chased first a high kick by Sexton and then a grubber into space by Henshaw to force Hastings into conceding another attacking lineout. But again the maul was sacked and then Watson, as he does, won a turnover penalty.
John Cooney injected some vim off the bench, Sexton carrying well off the scrumhalf’s blindside pass, but Henderson fumbled a tip-on pass by Stander and after Price and Hogg both threatened to break clear, Henderson was pinged for not rolling away. Hastings’ penalty made it 16-12.
The introduction of Devin Toner inspired an even bigger roar, and off his first take the Irish pack finally had some purchase off their maul. Conway brilliantly competed for Cooney’s box kick, but Aki fumbled his attempted pick-up.
Ireland were at least controlling territory and Sexton opted for an up-and-under from half-way up the middle. The Scots had been shepherding successfully for much of the afternoon but this time Johnson only had eyes for the chasing Conway and then clearly shouldered him. Amusingly, Johnson even sought to remonstrate with Raynal.
Sexton made it 19-12 although, interestingly, Farrell then trusted Ross Byrne with what proved a fraught endgame. The outstanding Watson broke clear before being hauled down by Stockdale. Again Scotland looked sure to score as their pack patiently and remorselessly inched toward the Irish line. Ireland were never in greater need of another big play and after Ryan threw his body to chop tackle Watson Stander, once again, was immovable over the ball to earn this penalty, prompting the biggest roar of the game.
At Ronan Kelleher’s first throw, the Irish pack were pinged for closing at the gap, but this attack was ended by Van der Flier when his strength and persistence over the ball forced a slight knock-on. When Henshaw kicked the ball dead, home team and crowd alike heaved a relieved collective cheer which amounted to an audible phew.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins Hastings pen 0-3; 10 mins Sexton try and con 7-3; 16 mins Hastings pen 7-6; 35 mins Sexton pen 10-6; (half-time); 45 mins Sexton pen 13-6; 52 mins Hastings pen 13-9; 57 mins Sexton pen 16-9; 66 mins Hastings pen 16-12; 73 mins Sexton pen 19-12.
Ireland: Jordan Larmour (Leinster); Andrew Conway (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster). Replacements: Peter O’Mahony (Munster) for Doris (5 mins), David Kilcoyne (Munster) for Healy (50 mins), Healy for Kilcoyne (51 mins), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster) for Ringrose (half-time), John Cooney (Ulster) for Murray (60 mins), Andrew Porter (Leinster) for Healy (66 mins), Devin Toner (Leinster) for Henderson (67 mins), Ronan Kelleher (Leinster) for Herring, Ross Byrne (Leinster) for Sexton (both 74 mins).
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Exeter, capt); Sean Maitland (Saracens), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Adam Hastings (Glasgow), Ali Price (Glasgow); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Scott Cummings (Glasgow), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), James Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Nick Haining (Edinburgh). Replacements: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh) for Brown (46-51 and 57 mins), Allan Dell (London Irish) for Sutherland, Ben Toolis (Edinburgh) for Gray, George Horne (Glasgow Warriors) for Price (all 65 mins,) Simon Berghan (Edinburgh) for Fagerson, Cornell du Preez (Worcester) for Haining, Rory Hutchinson (Northampton) (all 73 mins).
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).