Once again Scotland played their part in a thrilling piece of sporting drama and once again the team in blue finished a distant second where it matters most. The Scots were trailing by ten at the break but, not for the first time, they fell away badly in the second half and spent much of the later stages of the game on the back foot while a ruthless Ireland went in search of the points they needed to win this tournament.
Scorers: Scotland: Try: Russell. Con: Laidlaw. Pen: Laidlaw. Ireland: Tries: O’Connell, O’Brien 2, Payne. Cons: Sexton 3, Madigan. Pens: Sexton 4.
Ireland’s starting XV boasted 275 more caps than the hosts and by the end of the 80 minutes the gulf in class and experience was all too obvious. The visitors scored ten points in the opening ten minutes of both halves which went a long way to determining this result.
This old Championship still springs the odd surprise and if this Ireland win can’t be placed in that category, the manner in which Joe Schmidt’s side went about it undoubtedly can, chasing the 20-point difference that they needed to overtake Wales and managing it with something to spare, racking up a record-equalling win for Ireland at Murrayfield.
The Irish had scored just four tries all tournament and they scored four more yesterday at BT Murrayfield, two of which went to man of the match Sean O’Brien.
It was a brilliant display of running rugby with two teams determined to throw the ball about; end-of-season Barbarian fixtures have boasted more structure than yesterday’s encounter which varied between helter and skelter and then back again.
The Scots dominated territory in the first half, Ireland after the break, the entire crowd probably finished up with a crick in their neck. There were numerous little differences between the two teams that all added up but turnovers at the breakdown were the most important with Ireland winning that stat 12-3.
Time and again the Scots got themselves into their attacking groove with quick ball allowing Finn Russell to dictate matters in the midfield only for someone to knock on, lose the ball in contact.
David Denton, Jonny Gray and Adam Ashe carried and tackled themselves to a standstill and in the backs Russell enjoyed his best game for Scotland. The stand-off varied play beautifully, almost putting Matt Scott away with a perfectly weighted chip kick and doing the same in the second half for Dougie Fife. His astonishing long reverse pass at the death should have resulted in a try for Stuart Hogg but the fullback failed to ground the ball.
Scotland started this game much as they did against England the Saturday before. A slip by Fife saw the field open up and the Irish back division ran the ball for 60 metres until they were tackled just metres shy of the Scotland line. The Irish big men showed admirable patience to run through a few pick and drives before Paul O’Connell found a gap to score the opening try inside five minutes. Jonny Sexton kicked the conversion and added a tenth-minute penalty when the Scots sacked an Irish lineout illegally.
Worse was to follow. Euan Murray exited the action with an injured nose to be replaced by Geoff Cross and Ryan Grant followed him to the physio room on the half-hour mark. Fife, who has had more enjoyable nightmares than yesterday’s first 40 minutes, was temporarily replaced by Tim Visser who’s first contribution was to get himself tackled into touch. He wasn’t the only Scot guilty of that crime.
Greig Laidlaw eventually got Scotland off the mark with a penalty in front of the posts and Fife, duly patched up, returned to the action. He might have wish he hadn’t bothered. The Scot did well to save one try by collaring Robbie Henshaw but the winger’s next intervention wasn’t so clever.
The Irish threw long at a lineout. Devin Toner secured the ball and the Scots who should have been tackling him left the lineout early and O’Brien took full advantage. The flanker collected the ball from the long lock, ran straight through the lineout and sprinted 20 yards to the Scotland line with Fife left as road-kill on the way.
Sexton knocked over Ireland’s second penalty towards the end of the half but not before the home side had scored a good try after Tommy Seymour and Hogg combined up the left flank. The fullback collected Seymour’s grubber kick before feeding the winger who was stopped short. Jerome Garces signalled a Scotland penalty but Laidlaw saw numbers on the blindside and Russell was able to cross in the corner and claim his first international try.
At 10-20, the match wasn’t over at half time but it was shortly after. Ireland scored another quick-fire ten points early in the second half with Sexton’s third penalty and a well-worked try for centre Jared Payne who powered past Blair Cowan’s tackle to score under the posts. Scotland’s cause was further hampered by a yellow card to Geoff Cross but frankly uncontested scrums probably saved the home side from further embarrassment if nothing else.
Sexton eventually found his range to extend Ireland’s lead over Scotland to 23 (and over Wales to three) before O’Brien again powered his way over from short range to put Ireland in the driving seat and the match ended with Ian Madigan’s penalty shot sailing wide of the Scottish posts.
Scotland: Hogg; Fife, Bennett (Visser 70), Scott (Tonks 69), Seymour; Russell, Laidlaw (Hidalgo-Clyne 62); Grant (Dickinson 30), Ford (Brown 52), Murray (Cross 11), Hamilton (Swinson 52), Gray, Ashe (Harley 62), Cowan, Denton.
Ireland: Kearney; Bowe, Payne, Henshaw, Fitzgerald; Sexton (Madigan 70), Murray (Reddan 79); Healy (McGrath 55), Best (Cronin 61), Ross (Moore 46), Toner (Henderson 61), O’Connell, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip.
Referee: Jerome Garces (FFR). Attendance: 67,144
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