Ireland keep Grand Slam bid alive
MATCH REPORT: Ireland remained on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam after overcoming stiff Scottish resistance to win 22-7 at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Johnny Sexton’s seven points with the boot equalled Ronan O’Gara’s record as the all-time top scorer in the Six Nations, while Mack Hansen, James Lowe and Jack Conan scored tries as Scotland were denied a first Triple Crown since 1990.
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Ireland still have work to do just to win the title, though, as the failure to land a bonus point for the first time in this year’s Championship means they need to beat England in Dublin on Saturday to ensure they cannot be caught by France.
Andy Farrell had the luxury of welcoming back a host of star names to a side that has not lost since the first match of an ultimately victorious tour to New Zealand last July.
Tadhg Furlong made his first appearance of the Championship, while captain Sexton and Garry Ringrose, on his 50th cap, were back from injuries that kept them out of victory away to Italy three weeks ago.
Scotland were also confident after running France close in Paris and recording victories over England and Wales, but the hosts nearly had a suicidal start.
A wayward lineout on their own line allowed Dan Sheehan to power over for what seemed to be the game’s first try.
However, Scotland escaped on a technicality as they had not used the same ball for the restart, meaning the lineout was retaken.
Ireland were soon camped back on the Scottish line but only came away with three points as Sexton kicked over a penalty from close range.
Scotland were clinical with their first period of possession in Irish territory as swift hands from Sione Tuipulotu fed Huw Jones to run in his fourth try of the Championships under the posts and Finn Russell added the conversion.
Ireland did not trail for long thanks to a brilliant finish from Hansen to touch down in the corner from Hugo Keenan’s looping pass before he was forced into touch by Duhan van der Merwe.
The flying Scottish winger’s best work is normally done in the opposition’s 22 but Van der Merwe was guilty in going for glory himself with two teammates outside begging for a pass as the Irish defence scrambled back into position to win the penalty.
The visitors should have been more than 8-7 up at half-time after Lowe sliced through the heart of Scotland’s midfield.
But Ireland twice turned down a simple three points to go for the corner only to then lose their own lineout due to Ronan Kelleher’s overthrow.
A scintillating first 40 minutes gave way to a scrappy start to the second with neither side able to sustain attacking momentum.
However, Ireland pulled away in the final half hour.
Hansen’s leap and catch to meet Jamison Gibson-Park’s box kick set up a concerted spell of pressure before Lowe wriggled clear to finish in the corner.
Sexton kicked the conversion and also added the extras after Conan was released by Hansen’s pass to score Ireland’s third try to equal his predecessor O’Gara on 557 Six Nations points.
Farrell then replaced his skipper to potentially save the record-breaking moment for what should be a weekend of celebration when England, who were thrashed 53-10 by France on Saturday, visit Dublin.
Ireland should have had the bonus point to round off another fine performance but James Ryan lost the ball forward with Lowe in support in sight of the line.
Man of the match: It was a very tightly contested match. Sione Tuipulotu was the standout performance for Scotland. Ireland flank Josh van der Flier also deserves a mention for taking the role of the hooker at the line-outs. However, our nod goes to Ireland’s Mack Hansen. Whenever the wing had the ball he created magic. He scored his team’s first try; was incredible under the high ball, while his carries are well in double figures.
Moment of the match: The exit of Scotland’s props Zander Fagerson and Pierre Schoeman in the 54th minute proved to shift momentum in Ireland’s favour. Ireland immediately won a scrum penalty and had the upper hand. Furthermore, the introduction of Jamison Gibson Park was another big moment as the scrumhalf was a vital component in Ireland’s second-half performance.
Tries: Hansen, Lowe, Conan
Cons: Sexton 2
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Jamison Gibson park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England) & Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)
AFP & @rugby365com