The chance for Scotland to show that they can win away from against the big boys started in exhilarating and confident fashion, only for the same old issues to pop-up like a struggling tighthead.
Jamie Ritchie’s early breakdown indiscipline gave Ireland a pop at goal, which gave Johnny Sexton a chance to put Ireland into a 3-0 lead, but he missed the chance you would usually expect him to take.
Solid jackaling by Zander Fagerson gave Jaco van der Walt the chance to open his Scotland account, but he was unfortunate to smack the post with a fairly long-range effort.
He got a second chance from closer in soon afterwards after some big carries from Harris and Taylor, to put Scotland into a 3-0 lead.
The meaty Scotland pack – weighing in at over 900kg – then won a scrum penalty and van der Walt doubled the advantage.
With Scotland looking the better team, a penalty given against Fraser Brown with Scotland in no danger allowed Sexton to reduce the deficit.
But it was still Scotland who were playing all the rugby. They were shifting the ball around and finding space, Taylor and Harris straightening the lines well when required.
Another van der Walt penalty made it 9-3 and then his delightful kick forced Ireland back to within 10m of their try-line.
Matt Fagerson took Aki out in the air from the long throw-in to relieve the pressure on Ireland, and as the home side attacked… my stream froze.
By the time it came back, Taylor was walking off to the sin-bin and Sexton had an easy pop at goal.
Hogg’s restarts have been incredibly accurate in this tournament, and another one had caused some consternation with Cummings smashing Keith Earls, but they exited brilliantly and forced van der Walt into a fairly disappointing clearance, his first mis-step of the game.
Once into the Scotland 22, Ireland were slightly fortunate to win the scrum when Ritchie had stripped the ball back only to see it bounce off Zander Fagerson’s arm about 15m from the Scotland line.
Ali Price entered a ruck from the side and Ireland went to the line with Scotland still down to 14 men.
Scotland sacked the maul but with another penalty advantage, Sexton went over the top, Darcy Graham lost out in an aerial battle with Robbie Henshaw and the loose ball was dotted down by Keith Earls to give Ireland a lead that on the balance of play, they had scantly deserved.
But that’s what they, and most of the top teams in the world, do. They soak up the pressure and strike when they have the chance.
Half-time: Ireland 11 – 9 Scotland
Ireland extended their lead early in the second half after a very clever kick, bouncing kick forced Hogg into an error in the Scotland 22, gave them the scrum and eventually Cian Healy burrowed over after a surging run from Ireland no:8 from Caelan Doris.
Duncan Taylor, who had only just returned from his sin-binning then got replaced by Huw Jones. If this is another injury for Taylor it continues a career-long run of bad luck.
Keith Earls crossed again when Ireland used their set-piece prowess and grunt force to create space on the left.
Scotland had lost their way after such a bright start, but if there’s one man in this Scotland team who can burst any defence it’s now Duhan.
He saw a gap at the side of the ruck, picked up, brushed off Rob Herring like a bit of dust on a glass, and powered through Jacob Stockdale’s attempt for a fine finish.
A misjudgement from Hogg, again, nearly let Earls in for another Ireland score but Scotland won the turnover with their backs to the wall.
Scotland then got pinged for not releasing in the tackle when in a decent attacking position, and “Frustrating” Fraser Brown gave away an obstruction penalty for about the millionth time in his career, and shortly afterwards another infringement allowed Ross Byrne – on for Sexton who seemed to have a hammy injury to his left-leg – made it 28-16.
Peter O’Mahony thought he had dived in for a winger’s score in the right-corner if it weren’t for van der Merwe’s intervention forcing a foot into touch, so Byrne knocked over another penalty.
It’s getting quite annoying to repeatedly say “we were in that, but then…” and having seen the Taylor yellow-card on replay, I think that’s a harsh call which made a huge swing. Is he supposed to just let Aki throw or slip by him? It’s a micro-second before he makes contact with Aki and then hand hits ball, but the more blatant, and stupid penalties, killed it.
SRBlog Player of the Match: Duncan Taylor had been outstanding, Jaco showed up well, but I think again it’s got to go to Duhan van der Merwe. An outstanding finish for his try, another couple of charging runs into danger and that intervention on O’Mahony seal the deal.
Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)