What you need to know about 28-8 Irish win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin
The Irish got the win that ultimately won them the Six Nations title… but just as importantly, the Grand Slam is still on.
The 28-8, bonus-point win – their fourth win in these Six Nations – means they head for a St Patrick’s Day showdown with humbled England, looking to complete the set and make history on the final day.
Ireland were patient, canny and physical here but most importantly they thrived off Scottish errors. Such cool-headedness should stand them in good stead for next week.
Scotland beavered away and racked up a huge number of tackles, but they kept letting Ireland off the hook as they created, and then killed, chances. Scotland are still looking for that elusive impressive display away from Edinburgh, with the exception of visits to Rome. Of course, they are in Italy next week. And the key thing is, a bonus point win there and an Irish victory next week could see Scotland finish above England.
Related: What is a Grand Slam?
There was hope for more from the visitors but they started with a metaphorical stubbed toe. When Scotland tried to recreate the brilliance of a flat pass into a zone between players – remember the Huw Jones try against England that was set up by an incredible Finn Russell pass? – Jacob Stockdale was waiting. The lethal winger intercepted a floaty Peter Horne pass, racing in to score his ninth try on his eighth cap.
The pressure piled on. Ireland were suddenly busting first-up tackles, with big forwards like Tadhg Furlong finding space. It told going the other way too. Jones, who was so sublime against England, scoring a brace, created a chance with a brilliant chip. Regathering, he broke beyond the cover and created a one-on-one with Stuart Hogg screaming for it. He held the ball too long, threw a horrible pass beyond Hogg and the chance died.
Hogg killed another chance later, as did Horne.
Stockdale would get his tenth Test try, his second on the day, on the very stroke of half-time. Conor Murray muscled over on the other side of the break for a converted try – making it 21-3.
This could have turned into the running of the Irish bulls, with Scotland blushing red. But Blair Kinghorn squeezed in at the right corner to at least slow the process down.
Patience works at this level. The bonus point try was wrapped up with ten minutes to go as a big maul churned forward and Sean Cronin flaked off and went over. It was done and dusted from there with a late knock-on from Scotland over the line summing up their luck on the day.
Here are the big talking points from the game…
Ireland are efficient
Firstly, Ireland got the bonus point win they needed. Secondly, they controlled the pace of the game. Sexton dumped the ball when he wanted, or they sped up when they wanted. Passing was crisp. Stress levels for the hosts were never that high.
Scotland did not shirk their defensive responsibilities. Look at the figures for tackles – Jonny Gray and John Barclay ticked past 20 tackles each and Horne got 17. Turnovers were gathered in too, with Hamish Watson a nuisance throughout. But then Scotland lost concentration when it counted and Ireland capitalised. This was through sloppiness in attack, but the green tide would not be held back anyway.
After the intercept try, there were some good yards torn off by big Irish men. From the end of second half onwards, Scotland got on the wrong side of referee Wayne Barnes at the breakdown. Ireland were prepared to soak things up as Scotland created chances but then squandered them. Meanwhile Rob Kearney was wily and Furlong and Garry Ringrose roared on, attacking with frightening intent.
Related: France defeat England in Paris
Sexton did what Sexton does. There was a bonus point win. Ireland roll into next week at Twickenham to face an England side smarting from two losses on the bounce.
Huw Jones panicked. If he found Hogg the Scots take the lead and we could be talking about a completely different game.
Hogg also threw a pass over Kinghorn’s head, when advantage could have turned into a try. Pete Horne threw an intercept for a try, then broke in the second half and again over-threw a pass to kill another gilt-edged chance.
Where was the composure? Scotland can do this at BT Murrayfield and they were confident coming into this fixture. They could well cut loose again next week against Italy, too. The huge positive for them is that they will end in a very positive position in the table.
But if you look purely at the narrative of this game, four key errors from Scotland ensured that the scoreline was comfortable for Ireland.
Sexton can dink over the top if he wants. He clicked and collected one such nudge brilliantly in the first half. But time and again when play bunched up at one side and there were sparse numbers out wide, he would send up a cross-field, contestable kick. Murray too sent balls up and into the grey area between two sides, knowing that Ireland have the personnel to at least pressure the Scots.
Related: Sexton’s miracle kick against France
The visitors, in turn, were too sloppy too often with their catches in traffic. Sexton did not think twice about sending the ball their way.
Ireland are often criticised for playing percentage rugby. And this kicking approach is part of a calculated game, even if some say it’s not sexy. But winning is lovely and winning titles is certainly sexy. This has to be a hallmark of next week’s game too.
Stockdale the star
Lethal winger Stockdale has now equalled the tournament record for tries in a season. He has six, with a game in hand. And he is the first man to score more than one try in three consecutive games in any form of the Championship since 1914 (England’s Cyril Lowe did it back then). Could he go better next week? His potential is breathtaking.
Ireland – Tries: Stockdale 2, Murray, Cronin. Cons: Sexton 4.
Scotland – Tries: Kinghorn. Pens: Laidlaw