After all the Finn-anigans of the last two weeks, it was time for those selected to prove that they had put it all behind them and get on with the day job: playing rugby.
Due to illness, Simon Berghan had been forced to drop-out shortly before kick-off, so he was replaced by the “Willem-debeest”, WP Nel.
Scotland started brightly, Hogg and Hastings making sure to get themselves involved as early as possible and getting into the Ireland 22, only for a penalty to be awarded for no release, even though Stander appeared to come in at the side.
Scotland were then gifted possession back from a poor Murray box-kick, and they had come to play some ball.
Often, and correctly, derided for their slow starts, there was some slick off-loading, and forwards running onto the ball getting over the gain-line, until Ireland were forced into impeding.
Hastings, under the most intense of microscopes, knocked over the penalty to put Scotland in front.
Ireland may be renowned for their possession based, grind-you-down, style but in Jordan Larmour they have one of the most lethal strike runners in the game, and the first time he found space he hared into the Scotland half.
Debutant Haining had done well to retrieve a loose ball on the floor, but was then pinged for not releasing with no back-up able to arrive before Stander got there.
Sexton went for the corner rather than the equaliser, and although Scotland stopped the maul charge, Sexton eventually found an acre of space to cross the line, which he also converted.
Concerns over Zander Fagerson’s scrummaging are fast becoming a thing of the past. It has to be remembered he’s only just turned 24, so there’s still a lot of the dark-arts in the scrum he’s yet to learn.
He forced Cian Healy to change his bind, Hastings pinged over another penalty, just, to reduce the deficit.
An incredible Hogg penalty kick from inside his own half gave Scotland a line-out within ten metres of the Ireland line, but hugely frustratingly, it was knocked on in the maul following interference from the King of the Outhousers, Peter O’Mahony, an early replacement for the injured Caelan Doris.
Scotland were playing some fine rugby, Price was using the ball quickly, but with two decent attacking line-out opportunities.
Things were getting really feisty, and Ireland didn’t like it up ‘em. So much so, that Sexton took a dive. Watson may have hit him near the face, (depending on what replay you see), but Sexton played on until the relentless Scotland defence forced a knock-on in Ireland’s 22, so Sexton went down holding his face, looking pleadingly into Raynal’s eyes.
Murray’s insistence on box-kicking was not helping Ireland. He kicked it to Hogg, who returned it back to him, and hunted him down. After making the tackle, Hamish Watson tore in at the breakdown, but Hastings missed the penalty.
Sexton’s clever drop-out allowed Stockdale to make inroads, and a cheaply given away by Price allowed Sexton to increase the lead. 10-6 with 35mins gone, but plenty for Scotland to be pleased with, and a few things to be annoyed with.
Such as giving away cheap penalties. Gray entered a ruck at the side just a minute later, but thankfully for Scotland, Sexton didn’t hit it well.
With only four minutes remaining things went mental.
Bundee Aki hared into Scotland’s 22, Ringrose took it on, but then Conor Murray’s pass was intercepted by Sam Johnson.
Had it been Hogg or Kinghorn, you would have bet on them taking it all the way, but Johnson was snaffled. Scotland still made it into the Ireland 22, but Stander spared their blushes when he got over the ball on Fagerson’s carry.
A half of promise, but frustrating profligacy, meant Scotland hit the sheds behind, but only just.
At half-time, Ireland’s Garry Ringrose was replaced by Robbie Henshaw due to injury, and it was the men in green who first threatened.
Watson was penalised for not rolling away, so Sexton went to the corner. Scotland managed to sack the maul, but another easily kickable penalty was awarded, which was taken.
Scotland went close with a charge into the Ireland half, only for Huw Jones to throw an intercepted off-load near the Ireland 22, but Scotland kept pressing.
Johnson’s wriggling run when they played off the back of a maul took Scotland close, then there was an absolute disaster for captain Stuart Hogg.
He had nobody near him as he took possession just 2m from the line. And he dropped it. As a slight consolation, Hastings knocked over the penalty to make it 13-9.
Scottish indiscipline was costing precious territory, and Hastings high tackle on Sexton let him kick it deep again.
They sacked the maul effectively, again, but another penalty was conceded bang in front of the sticks. Showing no ill effects of his horrific injury, he booted over another penalty.
Scotland’s line-out was not going well at all, and once they had lost another, Ireland’s half-backs then decided to revert to type and just started hoofing it.
Hastings was forced to take into touch just 5m from the line, but once again, Scotland stopped it, and Ritchie stole possession back. Murray was then caught offside, so Scotland could clear.
Scotland were attacking with some glorious verve, little
inside flips from Hastings, forwards off-loading, and were awarded another penalty
with 15mins to go, which Hastings took. It was now 12-16, and replacements came
on, including the livewire George “Horneito” Horne. (I may have to ditch that
now that he’s the only Horne in the squad.)
When Ireland got the ball, they would just hoof it up, and Scotland couldn’t deal with it. Johnson impeded Conway, so Sexton went again for the sticks.
With 5mins remaining, a delightful delayed pass from
Hastings sent McInally through, Watson kept the charge on and Scotland’s
forwards went on, and on, and on again.
But as is always the case, they couldn’t break the green wall. Stander got over the ball, again, on a drive from just 2m out on Watson.
Considering what could have happened, an Ireland team who are usually dominant at home, this feels like one that got away.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
SRBlog MOTM: Zander Fagerson performed well in the scrum and got himself about, but if you’re talking about players who get themselves about and get properly tore into the opposition, Jamie Ritchie is your man. Incredible work-rate in defence, hit rucks like a torpedo and took on some carrying. Definitely one of the first names on the team-sheet now.