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OPINION: After 41 matches working in the slipstream of Joe Schmidt as an Ireland assistant, Andy Farrell eventually got his tenure as Ireland coach off to a winning start in a closely fought Six Nations encounter versus Scotland in Dublin.


The expectation had been for an Irish side featuring 13 of the same starting XV that dominated in the Yokohama rain when the two countries last met 132 days ago would continue that dominance.

However, the Scots were far more combative at the breakdown than they were at the World Cup and behaved like a troublesome stone stuck in Irish shoes, they caused pain and distraction right the way through to the final moments when a penalty-winning Christiaan Stander intervention at a ruck was required on the line to protect Ireland’s 19-12 victory.

Farrell would have hoped to have shown a fresher edge to Ireland’s approach under his baton, but that attacking ambition was compromised with the early injury to debut-maker Caelan Doris. Instead, they got dragged into a trench warfare type of contest where the result was never certain until the very end.

Liam Heagney rates the Irish players!


Just his second start at full-back in the Six Nations, Rob Kearney’s potentially long-term successor wasn’t hesitant in showing the wheels so many Ireland fans wanted to see. It was his break that punctured the early Scottish onslaught, sweetly getting on the outside of an opposition midfielder in a sweep that ignited the pressure that which resulted in the game’s only try some minutes later. He kept looking to create but could have done with some better vigilance from the referee when seemingly tripped trying to follow up on a chip ahead. Provided a try-saving interception on his 22 after the break when Scotland countered at 13-6.


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A deserved pick on the basis of his club form, the Scots were wise to the threat he posed chasing aerial ball. He was unable to get up against Blair Kinghorn under one punt and was then illegally taken out chasing another, an example of the nuisance factor the Scots were keen on wielding. It was his corner where Ireland were caught short defending on 51 minutes but Stuart Hogg’s incredible handling error meant a very welcome let-off. Was then the victim of the block by Sam Johnson that allowed Johnny Sexton nudge Ireland to 19-12 seven minutes from time.


Missed tackles are part of his armoury and he shot out of a defensive line in the early stages, missing Stuart Hogg in the Scottish attack that led to the opening penalty points. However, he was soon making a more positive contribution, providing necessary support to keep the momentum going after the Larmour counter-attack. Made some metres on other carries, too, but there were a few turnovers and he was replaced at the interval by Robbie Henshaw due to a hand injury that needs assessment.



Was a ‘surprise’ selection in the sense that his inclusion spelt bad news for the benched Henshaw, but the midfielder bounced back from his World Cup red card with a show of defiance that was needed to quell Scottish enthusiasm. He was to the fore when manning the defensive line during bouts of pressure in his own 22 and put in one excellent break nearing the interval. Was caught slacking at on stage in the second half but did enough to ensure the Scots left try-less yet again.


Waited a full 32 minutes before making a noticeable contribution, catching a Sexton restart just outside the 22 and surging his way forward to the Scottish ten-metre. That was a good sign of alertness by a player whose provincial form hadn’t been the best. With the game mostly taking place elsewhere, this wasn’t an outing for him to shine.


Farrell’s new skipper had much to prove despite his veteran status. Amid so much talk about World Cup cycles, a contingent of Irish support wasn’t behind his appointment as captain but he settled decently in the role in the early exchanges, taking the decision to kick to touch and have faith in his forwards working the situation that eventually resulted in the out-half grabbing his try on ten minutes. He scrambled well later on after Larmour’s ‘trip’ went unpunished and Scotland kicked ahead into the 22. Had a wobbly finish to the opening half, missing a shot off the tee and failing to find touch from another penalty. Kept the show going in the second period and had Ireland seven clear when he departed on 73.


Farrell’s most contentious selection given there was so much momentum behind John Cooney, who was made to settle for a bench spot. The famed box kick remained a pivotal part of his repertoire in clearing his team’s lines and it was his slick pass that got Sexton in for the opening try. Had Ali Price in his face often, and a pass that was intercepted on the Scots’ 22 could have spelt trouble down the other end but for Stander coming to the rescue at a penalty-winning ruck. A big cheer rang around the stadium when Cooney was introduced for him on 60 minutes.


Showed intelligence to act as the pivot to pop the pass that Murray ushered on to Sexton for the opening try, a selfless act typical of how he puts his body about as a tackle came piling through. Was penalised at the first scrum for collapsing which allowed Scotland get back to 6-7. Had little key involvements and was pulled on 50 minutes, only to return a minute later as replacement Dave Kilcoyne was poleaxed in the move that ended with Hogg dropping the ball over the line. Stayed until the 66th minute before giving way to Andrew Porter, then returned for the last two minutes after Tadhg Furlong limped off.


Hard to believe he has been on the scene and living in Rory Best’s shadow since a token 2014 debut in the Argentina wilds as a back row. With Best now retired, the South African had first dibs at the No2 shirt and his point of difference to his old Ulster colleague was his interest to try and get on the ball and make a few metres, which he did. The fear was the accuracy of his lineout throwing, but that didn’t falter, and he was hungry for mischief, his hunting down of Adam Hastings to earn Sexton a missed penalty chance near the end of the first-half typical of this presence. He lasted 73 minutes before up-and-coming Ronan Kelleher was awarded his debut.


He capped Ireland’s dominance in Yokohama with a try and a beaming smile, but the going was far tougher in Dublin as the Scottish pack were a more ravenous in-you-face obstacle in the pack. Can’t be happy with some of his team’s scrummaging as two front row penalties were conceded but he kept on battling around the frantic breakdown trying to make a difference. The loss of Kilcoyne to concussion meant there was no traditional taking him off around the hour mark and his presence was needed, the tighthead putting in an important tackle near the end when Scotland attacked through a gap between Aki and Porter. Limped away on 78 minutes.


Cost Ireland some penalty points at the ruck in the opening half but being disruptive was his mission and he stayed on message, being a nuisance at a maul and then at a ruck on two occasions when Scotland has a sniff of the Irish line. There was also a ball dislodging tackle on Sean Maitland never the posts but it was all dogged defensive duties as his carry to a second-half ruck enabled Sexton to kick the resulting penalty for 13-6. Gave way to Devin Toner on 68, the sub second row who was given a rapturous salute by the crowd following his World Cup omission.


He was many fans’ alternative to Sexton getting the captaincy and it would have been curious how he would have stepped up to that responsibility if given it. As it was, he was left to try and do what he had been doing so far in his fast-paced career – standing out from the crowd in the unforgiving battle zone. It was tougher going than usual, some missed tackles not helping on an evening where the Scots posed far more questions than last September. Carried decently when given his moments and remained robust to the finish.


This was supposed to be a return to how it all started at Test level for the South African, packing down at blindside where he earned this first 14 starts. However, that plan went out the window with the loss of debut-making Doris just minutes into the bruising contest. He carried well, tackled energetically and was a menace over Scottish ball at the breakdown. Won one crucial penalty in the first half and then capped it with another big penalty turnover at the end.


He carried well at the maul that put Ireland on the front foot for the only try, but his difficult day was summed up by Hamish Watson ripping the ball from him at a second-half maul after Ireland had kicked to touch ten metres out. Unlike in Yokohama where Irish power dominated and subdued the Scottish back row, the exchanges were far more engaging here and van der Flier seemed to suffer, his usual sky-high tackle count down and a number of collisions missed.


Made a courageous introduction to Test rugby, winning a penalty inside two minutes after bottling up a Scottish ball carrier Jonny Gray at the ruck. However, with the clock showing 4:17 he was gone due to a head collision with Adam Hastings when he double-teamed with Henderson. His loss was a shame as it denied Ireland his ball-carrying capabilities, something that is not in replacement Peter O’Mahony’s armoury. The sub had some typical good moments in the tight, though.

Source: RugbyPass

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