Player ratings: Pain turned to pleasure
OPINION: Joe Schmidt’s Ireland got their Six Nations title defence back on track with a low-frills 22-13 win over Scotland at Murrayfield.
Bruised by an avalanche of criticism in the wake of their home loss to England, which including a stinging accusation that they used caveman tactics in attack, they were more physically ready for the Scots and they never looked back after being gifted a 10th minute lead they were never to lose through a comedic effort in the Scottish rearguard.
Ireland failed to win with a try bonus point, even though they had three tries on the board by the 56th minute. But they secured a different type of bonus in learning to play a considerable part of an error-error-strewn match minus Johnny Sexton.
The veteran orchestrator lasted only 24 minutes and his replacement Joey Carbery suffered a massive blow just five minutes after his introduction, his pass being intercepted in the lead-up to Scotland’s only try.
However, the youngster recovered his composure and it was his ability to scramble when tidying up a loose Sean O’Brien pass that created the contest’s crucial score in 56 minutes.
He danced his way through two mis-tackling Scottish forwards on halfway and his looping pass approaching the 22 sent in Keith Earls.
Ireland hadn’t lost twice in a row at the start of the championship since 1998 and this win sees them land a likely valuable World Cup psychological blow as these two counties will meet again at Japan 2019 in September.
Liam Heagney rates the Irish players!
15. ROB KEARNEY – 7
Fully justified his recall after Robbie Henshaw struggled in the shirt in the loss to England. The long-serving full-back put all his experience to excellent use in giving Ireland defensive assurance at the back while he posed a constant threat with ball in hand with some excellent carries. It was his tidy-up of a Scottish kick that laid the foundation for Ireland to strike from deep for their opening try, and he was again the spark that ignited the move that led to their third on the other side of the interval.
14. KEITH EARLS – 7
His early defensive error against England Incredulously resulted in him being dismissed in some post-match commentary last weekend as a stop-gap inclusion, but he demonstrated here that he definitely deserves his place. He showed his speed on a number of occasions, firstly when chasing down Finn Russell in the attack that still led to a Scottish try and secondly when running an excellent support line to take a second-half scoring pass from Carbery. Wasn’t allowed to be an aerial threat, though, as Conor Murray’s box-kicking was below par.
13. CHRIS FARRELL – 5
Called in to fill the spot vacated by the injured Garry Ringrose, he enjoyed an enterprising start and it was his enthusiastic chasing of a Jacob Stockdale kick that caused the consternation in the Scottish ranks that led to Ireland’s important opening try. His impacts gradually declined through the contest as he had little freedom to manoeuvre when in possession, an impression encapsulated by him losing the ball during the play that led to the Scottish penalty that made the score 19-13 with 18 minutes remaining.
12. BUNDEE AKI – 5
Ireland’s busiest back in defence, Aki put in 14 tackles but this endeavour was undermined by the two penalties he conceded costing his team six points. He has become one of Schmidt’s most favoured selections in the past year, but he should be bringing more in attack. This desire for greater creativity suggests that the next day’s away try to Italy is an opportunity to unleash a Henshaw-Ringrose midfield partnership (if either are fit) to see if they are a combination that can create more in attack.
11. JACOB STOCKDALE – 7
Other youngsters would have had their confidence massively dented by the defensive howler that gifted England a vital first-half try last weekend, but Stockdale is made of stern stuff and it didn’t take him long to demonstrate he has lost none of his inspiring swagger. It was his kick that created the opening for Ireland’s first try and he was then excellently evasive in taking a sweet pass off Sexton to race in from far out for his 17th minute try. He was also defensively dependable, tidying up a Finn Russell kick on 33 minutes and then importantly dragging down Tommy Seymour some minutes later.
10. JOHNNY SEXTON – 6
Zealous Scottish tackling meant he lasted just 24 minutes in his 80th appearance. His day, which ended in a HIA failure, started with a penalised high tackle on Ryan Wilson. He then missed what looked an unmissable conversion kick, but he was still alert enough to pick Greig Laidlaw for an intercept pass, and he was then supreme in putting Stockdale through a hole with a sweet inside pass for his 17th minute try that led to him shipping a juddering collision from Allan Dell.
9. CONOR MURRAY – 5
He opening Ireland’s account with a gift of a try, but there is something not quite currently right with the usuallyworld class scrum-half who missed the first three months of the season with a neck injury. Similar to last weekend, his box-kicking wasn’t accurate. Look at how his few initial kicks only brought heavy pressure onto the Ireland defence. Even when he scored, he failed to show awareness and bring the ball over to the posts before touching down. Sexton missed that conversion and the lost two points could have been costly in a tighter contest.
1. CIAN HEALY – 7
Will be annoyed with a couple of handling errors, but his physicality was what the Irish pack needed after a chastening ordeal versus the English. He was hungry for prominence and his 20 metres from eight carries was an important contribution on an afternoon where both packs barrelled into each other in bruising fashion. He wasn’t shy on the other side of the ball, putting in a dozen tackles in a decent 58-minute shift.
2. RORY BEST – 6
Didn’t greatly stand out but was still a reliable presence when needed. Was regularly in the ear of referee Romain Poite to ensure Ireland got a fair shake of the decisions and his best moment came on 36 minutes. Ireland had flapped down a Scottish lineout five metres out from their own line and Best demonstrated a pair of safe hands in swiftly diving on the loose ball when it cannoned off the corner flash and rolled behind the line. That intervention was a try saver.
3. TADHG FURLONG – 6
Had a nightmare at Murrayfield two years ago, getting embarrassingly caught out at a lineout that Scotland scored from, but he was far more clued in on his Edinburgh return and left the field on 69 minutes with his head held high. His scrummaging was solid and he carried aggressively, making one good early break that found Murray in support.
4. JAMES RYAN – 7
The consistency of his all-round game is a delight and it didn’t disappoint here as Ryan took another step towards cementing his reputation as one of Ireland’s most important players. He tackling was effective, the lock’s tally of 15 only bettered by Jack Conan, while his ability to grind out hard yards in confined spaces was greatly encouraging. Left his opposite number Grant Gilchrist firmly in the shade.
5. QUINN ROUX – 5
It has been quite a few weeks for South African who was omitted from the squad Ireland originally announced for the tournament on January 16. Injuries to rival second rows bumped him up the pecking order and here he was making a first Six Nations start at the age of 28. He didn’t excel but neither was he overly exposed at this level as his formidable frame served him well in being a presence around the ruck.
6. PETER O’MAHONY – 8
There was speculation that his anonymous effort versus the English was deserving of the axe. Instead, it was less experienced openside Josh van der Flier who paid the price despite his livelier show. O’Mahony fully repaid the faith shown by Schmidt with an all-round energetic effort where he persistently got in Scottish faces and it was his tackle, which should have been penalised, that led to Stuart Hogg’s early withdrawal. Showed good awareness on other occasions by putting boot to ball.
7. SEAN O’BRIEN – 7
Many eyes were on the injury-prone back row who was making only his 12th start in Ireland’s last 38 games. His lack of robustness resulted in the RugbyPass revelation on Thursday that he will be joining London Irish next season due to a reduced IRFU contract offer, but there were numerous glimpses of the O’Brien of old here. He enjoyed his carrying and while it was his pass that went loose before Carbery’s recovery created Earls’ try, he was an excellent second-half scrapper when the game was there to be won.
8. JACK CONAN – 7
The 26-year-old revelled in the biggest start of his career, tackling so frequently that he deserves kudos for topping the Ireland chart with 18 interventions. His ball-carrying effectiveness might not have wielded the same sort of threat we are used to seeing when he plays for Leinster, but he offered a point of different to the Irish pack that we don’t get when first choice CJ Stander is wearing the No8 shirt. Expect to see him motor more with the ball the next day in Rome.
16. SEAN CRONIN – No rating
Introduced with only eight minutes remaining when the win was already in Ireland’s bag.
17. DAVE KILCOYNE – 6
Ireland’s bench contribution left much to be desired when England picked them apart last weekend, but Kilcoyne illustrated this weekend’s improvement with a decent 22 minutes featuring a half-dozen carries.
18. ANDREW PORTER – 5
Came on 11 minute from time with Ireland turning the screw and playing down the clock. Gave up a late scrum penalty.
19. ULTAN DILLANE – 7
Came on for Roux at the same time Porter was introduced for Furlong and made a massively better impression. He forced a penalty on 75 minutes and then stole Scottish lineout ball a few minutes later.
20. JOSH VAN DER FLIER – 6
Unlucky to be bench after a decent show against England, he was introduced here for O’Brien on 64 minutes and made a quick impact as he carried to the ruck four minutes later that resulted in Josh Strauss conceding the penalty that allowed Ireland move nine points clear.
21. JOHN COONEY – No rating
Came on for Murray with just two minutes left.
22. JOEY CARBERY – 7
Deserves a high rating for his ability to roll with the deflating punch that was his pass being intercepted by Finn Russell for Scotland’s only try. As Sexton’s replacement, he could have collapsed under the weight of pressure. Instead, he regained his composure and his elusiveness was brilliantly exhibited when he tidied up O’Brien’s loose pass and darted in between Allan Dell and Rob Harley on halfway to set up Keith Earls for a vital score.
23. JORDAN LARMOUR – No rating
Brought on with eight minutes left for Stockdale, but had nothing to do.