Player Ratings: Triple Crown winners
OPINION: A sun-kissed afternoon gave way beery twilight celebrations as Ireland clinched the Triple Crown with a 26-5 bonus point win and then huddled around the TV screens in the ground to watch the title-deciding Six Nations action unfold from Paris.
The arithmetic for Ireland was simple – win in Dublin in the 16.45 (local time) kick-off and not only would they collect a first Triple Crown since 2018’s Grand Slam but they would also intriguingly go top of the table by three points ahead of the final fixture of the tournament, the late Saturday night meeting of the Grand Slam-chasing France and the also-ran England at the Stade de France.
Forty-two days ago after the round one results in Dublin and Edinburgh, this round five Aviva Stadium fixture was brazenly touted as a potential everything-up-for-grabs Grand Slam decider but Scotland’s results since then weren’t kind and after the nonsense of a half-dozen players getting disciplined for going for a bevvy last weekend and the subsequent dropping of Finn Russell to the bench, they were on a hiding to nothing here.
They admittedly gave it socks defensively but didn’t have the firepower or the gameplan to ever suggest an upset. It was 18 years ago when Ireland last won a trophy at home, but the celebrations of that clinching Triple Crown win over the Scots in 2004 – their first Crown in 19 years at the time – were tempered by the tragic news emerging from South Africa that U19s player John McCall had died after taking ill at an age-grade World Cup match.
Here, they eventually got the job done even though the scores didn’t flow as freely as in some other Six Nations matches this season. First-half tries from the ultra-impressive Dan Sheehan and the bruising Cian Healy set them on their way and while the Scots hit back pre-interval with an unconverted score from Pierre Schoeman, Andy Farrell’s charges had the patience to wait out the resistance and see the game home.
The mighty Josh van der Flier was a 60th-minute try-scorer and while there were inaccurate moments coming down the finishing straight, particular at a penalty-leaking scrum, the yellow card for Ben White after a deliberate knock-on was the invite for Conor Murray to blast over in the 79th minute to clinch the bonus.
That ignited the celebrations that had injured duo James Ryan and Andrew Conway collecting the Triple Crown at 18:49 (local time), ten minutes after Wayne Barnes’ final whistle, and it was followed by a well-deserved lap of honour.
Liam Heagney rates the Irish players:
15. Hugo Keenan – 8
Having successfully emerged from some high pressured defensive moments at Twickenham, he led the first half charge here with some high-metre carries, but his highlight was reserved for nine minutes into the second period when he clattered Stuart Hogg into touch near the try line with the score balanced at 14-5. It was wonderful defending. Played 74 minutes before Joey Carbery’s introduction.
14. Mack Hansen – 7
Only months off the plane from Australia, his dream time in Ireland culminated in his re-introduction to the team at the expense of the knee-minding Conway. Couldn’t take an early pass and couldn’t do anything either about Schoeman squirming between his legs for Scotland’s only score. Enjoyed a livelier second half, expertly gathering a kick through from Jamison Gibson-Park and later producing a cracking man-and-ball tackle with Scotland attacking at 21-5.
13. Garry Ringrose – 7.5
Has underlined his increasing importance to Ireland by being selected to start in all eight games this season. It was his line speed that forced Sam Johnson to chuck an early forward pass and he carried with ingenuity in the opening period. Continued that effort after the break, his footwork in defence helping to deny the Scots getting around the corner and striking out wide.
12. Bundee Aki – 6.5
This wasn’t a showreel of a Six Nations for the midfielder, unlike say last year when his barnstorming effort versus England got him Lions selection. Was used as a battering ram presence here, running tightly off the shoulder of Johnny Sexton on a number of surges. Was again hooked for Robbie Henshaw, this time exiting on 56 minutes.
11. James Lowe – 7.5
Injured for the opening rounds, Lowe has largely made Test rugby look easy since his return. The defensive deficiencies that previously got him dropped have been mostly mended and his boot and handling skills are regularly a joy. Played the match on his terms – for instance, he ambitiously quick-tapped on 16 minutes to ratchet up the pressure on the Scots with the match still pointless. Then rounded it off with the offload from a maul to allow Murray to clinch the bonus point try.
10. Johnny Sexton – 7
Even the long in the tooth veterans can be affected by nerves if his opening was anything to go by. Missed an early tackle on the breaking Ali Price and then failed to find touch off a penalty but recalibrated quickly with a peach of a 50:22. Took a number of heavy hits and went on in the second half to ignore multiple potential shots at goal in preference for kicks to the corner, a tactic that eventually paid dividends with the pair of last-quarter tries. Even came up with a 66th-minute turnover in his 22.
9. Jamison Gibson-Park – 8
A glittering star of this championship season in that he brilliantly built on last season’s inconsistent introduction to become an integral part of this upscaled Farrell game plan. After a limp opening for his team, it was his sniping break, kick and chase that brought the stadium crackling to life on twelve minutes. He tried to keep that tempo high and it was fitting that he produced a canny assist for van der Flier to score the third try. Played 66 minutes before Murray arrived in.
1. Cian Healy – 8
Having struggled all-over last week aside from that crucial ball dislodge at a first-half England maul, he was much better here with a vastly improved work rate that was amply rewarded by a 28th-minute try from close range. Gave up a scrum penalty just before the break but his power in the contact continued to impress the second part before he made way for Dave Kilcoyne on 52 minutes.
2. Dan Sheehan – 9
The introduction of this young gun in place of the thriving – but now sadly injured – Ronan Kelleher was an example of the increased strength in depth that now exists in a number of positions under Farrell. He was encouragingly pinpoint accurate with his early throwing and he found Iain Henderson at the 17th-minute lineout off a penalty to touch that invited him to latch onto the ensuing maul and score. He then made a big carry in the lead-up to Healy’s score and continued to carry regularly to great effect in 63 excellent minutes before Rob Herring was introduced.
3. Tadhg Furlong – 7.5
A prop on a mission to right the wrong of last week’s decisions at the scrum, he will be happy that none of the four scrum penalties awarded to Scotland were directly his fault, the tighthead gone from the action by the time the last two happened. He was a busy player in general play, epitomised by his tackle just before the break on his five-metre line just before the Scots scored, and by a turnover penalty won at the ruck. Maintained that exhausting work rate in the second period and went on to feature for 68 minutes.
4. Tadhg Beirne – 7.5
The pilferer of that important England lineout last week with Ireland just three points up and defending, he started here with a 13th-minute handling error when taking a pass and was then penalised for holding on when Rory Darge went foraging. However, whereas in the past these errors would have drained his influence, he bounced back with authority. Look at how a missed 55th-minute lineout catch was followed by his blocking of the attempted Scotland clearance. He is another player much improved under Farrell in recent times.
5. Iain Henderson – 8
Chosen as a starter after playing 78 minutes for the concussed James Ryan last weekend, his performance wasn’t seamless at Twickenham but he was top drawer here bar getting ripped on the carry near the line six minutes into the second half. His capably laid the foundation for the opening try with a lineout catch and then showed his agility with a brilliant one-handed take. Copped a shoulder to the neck from Schoeman on 49 minutes but was unruffled, taking the catch at the lineout restart to help Ireland exit safely. Played 63 minutes before Kieran Treadwell came on.
6. Caelan Doris – 7.5
He is another to thrive lately in the Farrell era and his performance here showcased all the good stuff that he has to offer. He will likely be annoyed that he couldn’t get low enough to prevent Schoeman from wriggling over for Scotland’s try and by a 57th-minute try-ruining knock-on, but his goodness with visible in how he had forced a fumble from Chris Harris minutes earlier.
7. Josh van der Flier – 8.5
Has become a fabulously consistent player in recent times and this effort was a tonic in allaying Irish nerves. Was held up over the line on 15 minutes but was a deserved scorer 45 minutes later. Broke with the ball at times like a fleet-foot scrum-half and his commitment in the trenches was later topped off by how he halted a Scotland attack nine minutes from time.
8. Jack Conan – 8
Demonstrated with his energetic effort off the bench in London that the lethargy of Paris last month was past tense and he continued his upward rebound here with an even livelier effort in which he constantly sought to carry and get his team on the front foot. Lasted 52 minutes before Ireland switched to Peter O’Mahony.
By Liam Heagney, @RugbyPass