Joey Carbery steered Ireland to a redemptive but patchy 22-13 Guinness Six Nations victory over Scotland, as Joe Schmidt’s men edged back to winning ways in Edinburgh.
Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls all crossed for Ireland, while Sam Johnson replied for Scotland with Greig Laidlaw posting eight points from the boot.
Here’s our report card from a thrilling contest.
Ireland stars: Sean O’Brien and Jack Conan looked superb, bringing some fearless ball-carrying, clever ruck play and superb tackling ability.
Both players were abrasive in the tackle with O’Brien (12 tackles) and Conan (18 tackles) stepping up when they were needed most.
At full-back Rob Kearney looked dangerous on the counter, making a superb break that led to Keith Earls try in the second half.
The 32-year-old ran a stunning 91 metres, making three clean breaks and beating five defenders.
Set piece: Ireland dominated their set piece, winning 11 out of 11 of their line-outs and all 10 of their scrums. In contrast, Scotland lost three of their 10 line-outs but had a 100 per cent success rate at scrum time.
It was off the set piece that Ireland looked sharp as they initiated some formidable attacking opportunities, but for all their possession and territory in second half, should have put some more than 10 points on the scoreboard.
Scotland mistakes: Although Ireland were guilty of making plenty of errors, Scotland had their fair share too, gifting Murray an early try following a defensive mix-up. They also conceded seven penalties and were unable to convert some chances they had on offer.
After the break, their focus and commitment dropped and they looked very much on the back foot with just 33 per cent possession and 28 per cent territory. The slack defending was evident when Allan Dell and Rob Harley failed to tackle Carbery and the Munster man paved the way to send Earls in from close range.
Gregor Townsend’s side need to bounce back with a consistent display against France in two weeks time.
Loss of key men: For Scotland and Ireland to lose Stuart Hogg and Johnny Sexton in the opening 30 minutes was a significant blow, not just for the game itself but for their prospects of the remainder of the tournament.
Hogg, in particular, will be a serious loss for the Scots. The 26-year-old makes the magic happen with ball in hand and it will be hoped his shoulder injury won’t rule him out for round three.
While Sexton continued to play after picking up a facial injury, Schmidt opted to replace him after 24 minutes. Joey Carbery be a class act in his own right, but Sexton’s distribution and kicking game is a difference level compared to his younger team-mate.
7 minutes – Laidlaw converts an early penalty after a positive start from the hosts (3-0).
10 minutes – Stockdale stabbed a kick through, and a mix up in defence, saw Murray collect possession and dive out for a try. A score out of nothing (3-5).
16 minutes – A switch back on the inside from Sexton saw Stockdale race in from the halfway line to touch down for his first try of the campaign. Murray converts (3-12)
28 minutes – Finn Russell showed great awareness to steal an intercept from Carbery. He sprinted into the Irish 22 and popped it off to Sam Johnson to score (10-12).
55 minutes – Carbery glided past two Scotland players, broke into the 22 and floated a pass out to Keith Earls to cross the line. Carbery made no mistake with the conversion. Sensational score for Ireland (10-19).
62 minutes – Laidlaw makes no mistake with a penalty out wide on the left flank. He’s now on 666 international points, one behind Gavin Hastings on the all-time standings (13-19).
68 minutes – Carbery lands the kick, and Ireland have a useful cushion going into the final stages (13-22).
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
Scotland were putting all the crunching hits in early on and looked dominant.
Under intense pressure, Ireland got a lucky break when a defensive mix-up allowed Murray to collect possession and score the first try.
Losing talisman Hogg, Ireland found space shortly after and stamped their influence on proceedings with a score through Stockdale.
But the visitors made life difficult for themselves, allowing Scotland back into the game at every opportunity when they went ahead.
Johnson’s try did put two points in at the break but Ireland upped the tempo slightly in the second period to hang on for victory.
A lack of fight in the second half will disappoint Townsend.
Mistakes and weak defence cost them at crucial moments. Without key man Hogg, they lacked inspiration going forward and enjoyed only a small fraction of possession and territory in the second half.
The visitors put together some impressive attacking plays in the second half but still plenty of work to do if they are to go on and challenge Wales and England for the Six Nations title.
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