Ireland ease past Scotland for third spot
MATCH REPORT: A brace from Keith Earls ensured Ireland finished 2020 on a high as they came from behind to defeat Scotland 31-16 and secure third place in the inaugural Nations Cup.
The Munster wing scored his first try just before the break to give Ireland a slim 11-9 advantage at half-time after Scotland had led through Jaco Van der Walt’s three penalties.
*As it happened: Ireland v Scotland
A further try from Cian Healy following the restart as well as Earls’ second saw the hosts get over the line, with ten points from Sexton and two Ross Byrne penalties putting the icing on the cake.
Duhan Van der Merwe did score a superb solo try in the second half to give Scotland hope but Ireland withstood their pressure and saw out the game to clinch the bronze medal.
Ireland started brightly and a rare Peter O’Mahony grubber kick into the corner saw Andy Farrell’s men pile the pressure on before Jamie Ritchie gave away a penalty for going off his feet.
Returning captain Sexton opted for the posts but his effort from 30m drifted just wide and having been given an early let off, Scotland started to enjoy more of the ball.
A Caelan Doris infringement presented debutant Van der Walt his first opportunity to get on the board on 11 minutes but the Edinburgh No.10’s effort cannoned off the post.
He made no mistake two minutes later, though, with Van der Merwe’s rampaging run culminating in Ireland starting offside – allowing Van der Walt to open the scoring.
With their tails up after taking the lead, Scotland soon doubled their advantage as Van der Walt slotted his second penalty on 19 minutes after his side were awarded a scrum penalty.
Sexton provided the perfect response for Ireland moments later, pegging the visitors back from the tee after Fraser Brown was penalised for tackling CJ Stander without using his arms.
Van der Walt break and great work from captain Stuart Hogg got Scotland back on the front foot and their possession resulted in a third penalty for the new fly-half in front of the posts.
But having restored their six-point lead, Scotland suffered a crucial blow on the half-hour mark when Duncan Taylor was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock on.
Sexton capitalised on the infringement immediately, slotting three more points from the penalty, and it was not long before Ireland were back in Scotland’s half again.
With the extra man and a penalty advantage, Sexton hoisted a kick high towards Scotland’s goal area and Robbie Henshaw rose highest before Earls pounced on the loose ball.
A TMO review confirmed Henshaw did not knock the ball on and Earls try ensured Ireland took a narrow 11-9 advantage into the break, with Sexton unable to add the extras.
Buoyed by their somewhat fortunate half-time lead, Ireland looked a different side after the restart and were gifted a perfect attacking platform after Hogg knocked on deep in his own half.
Ireland’s big guns then got to work, battering the line of dark blue shirts time and again before Healy barged over the whitewash with assistance for the hosts’ second try.
Sexton added the extras but having got their full complement of players back, Scotland provided Ireland with another scoring opportunity when they strayed offside on 48 minutes.
Farrell’s side once again went to the corner and after repeatedly bashing Scotland’s defensive line, good hands from O’Mahony provided space for Earls to go over for his second try.
The boot of Sexton extended Ireland’s lead to 25-9 with half an hour to play, leaving Gregor Townsend’s men with a mountain to climb to get themselves back into the contest.
Their task was made much easier by a moment of magic from Van der Merwe in the 56th minute, plucking the ball from the ruck and racing over from 30m for a try out of nothing.
Van der Walt’s conversion cut the deficit to nine points and the pendulum appeared to swing back in Scotland’s favour, with the visitors quickly back to within 10m of the Ireland tryline.
The move amounted to nothing, however, after Zander Fagerson was penalised for going off his feet and further Scotland infringements proved costly moving into the final quarter.
Byrne extended Ireland’s lead with another three points after replacing Sexton before O’Mahony came close to grabbing his side’s fourth try only to be denied by the touch judge.
His disappointment at being denied a try was eased by Ireland’s penalty advantage, though, and Byrne hammered the final nail in Scotland’s coffin with his second three-pointer.
Tries: Earls 2, Healy
Cons: Sexton 2
Pens: Sexton 2, Byrne 2
Try: Van der Merwe
Con: Van der Walt
Pens: Van der Walt 3
Yellow card: Taylor (Scotland, 30)
Ireland: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Robbie Henshaw 11 Keith Earls, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 John Ryan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Chris Farrell.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Sean Maitland.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Karl Dickson
TMO: Dan Jones