A frenetic match at BT Murrayfield capped off the weekend’s Six Nations action, and if England v France had set a high benchmark, this did its best to match it.
In the end, however, it was the same end result that’s become the status quo, which now puts Ireland in the lead in the overall head-to-head record with 67 wins.
An early break down the left wing by James Lowe led to an Ireland penalty just in front of the sticks, but Scotland would perhaps be satisfied with only conceding the three-points considering how prolific Ireland usually are from close-range.
One of their other skills is in the aerial game, and it was the wily Jonny Sexton who created it, first with an bomb which Hogg was beaten to by Henshaw, and it was Henshaw who got on the end of a Sexton cross-field kick which Keith Earls did well to deflect back.
Finn Russell reduced the deficit with a penalty, before a series of knock-ons saw Ireland gain a penalty.
Sexton missed touch, but an astute kick by Hugo Keenan put the Scotland line-out under pressure. Ireland stole their second line-out of the day and when they were awarded a penalty at an awkward angle, they went for the corner.
Scotland’s maul defence held firm, then a last-ditch tackle on a sniping Jamison Gibson-Park gave Hamish Watson the chance to clamp onto the ball just short of the line.
George Turner’s misfiring line-out may have cost Scotland an attacking platform in the Ireland’s 22 shortly afterwards, but when Ireland lost one of their own on half-way, Scotland took the lead with a touch of good fortune.
Stuart Hogg charged down Ringrose’s kick, his nudge ahead bounced off his face, and back toward his right-boot. He kicked inside to Russell, who’s own kick was palmed into the air by James Lowe for Russell to regather on the try-line.
Having gained the upper-hand on the scoreboard, Scotland then too the upper-hand at the scrum. The kick to touch went into the 22, but the throw once again didn’t hit it’s intended target.
Either side of a missed Russell penalty, Ireland had regained the lead thanks in no small part to Tadgh Beirne’s jackaling skills, and then with the half-time whistle poised to blow, Ali Price jumped out of the line to give away another cheap 3-points to the boot of Sexton.
Half-time: Scotland 10 – 14 Ireland
The open nature of the first half continued with some massive collisions, but when it came to it Scotland’s line-out was letting them down, but Ireland used theirs to widen the advantage in somewhat controversial circumstances.
The maul didn’t go far, but when Beirne did break through the wall after repeated pick and gos, referee Romain Poite said he had seen the ball grounded, despite replays proving inconclusive.
Another lost line-out, another Sexton penalty. Finn Russell then tried to take too much at a kick to touch and put it over the sideline of the in-goal area. This wasn’t going well.
Ireland’s early shove at the scrum brought about a once familiar site however.
Sam Johnson made a burst through the middle from the quick free-kick, Scotland went to the right and Huw Jones, only just on the park as a replacement for Chris Harris, weaved past Lowe and Keenan before stepping inside Gibson-Park to the try-line.
Now back within scoreboard parity, Scotland were forced into a major reshuffle when Finn Russell and Scott Cummings went off injured. Jamie Ritchie and Jonny Gray had already been replaced by Grant Gilchrist and Nick Haining.
Townsend had advised earlier in the week Stuart Hogg would go in at fly-half, but I don’t imagine he’d had much discussion with Scott Steele about packing down.
The makeshift Scots showed plenty of steel throughout to draw level though. A sustained period of pressure was finished off by a superb finish by Hamish Watson, twisting through the tackles and somehow keeping hold of the ball to press it down.
Hogg had taken over the kicking duties shortly before Russell had exited the game and although he drew the scores level, Scotland did what they tend to and gifted an opportunity to seal the game.
Space was left round the side of a ruck for Ryan Baird to get through and block Price’s box-kick, Price recovered, but he was surrounded. Penalty to Ireland.
Sexton showed his own nerves of steel to boot Ireland to victory.
The gap may be narrowed, but the same plan keeps on working for Ireland. They got the edge at the breakdown, and once they ground their way into position Sexton’s boot does the rest.
For Scotland, the line-out was horrendous – 6 from 8 lost – and the handling error and penalty counts too high, but the scrum was pretty fairly matched and Jones try was very good.
SRBlog Player of the Match: the collisions were so brutal in this match it made him lose his headband, which makes his grounding for the try more impressive, Hamish Watson’s relentlessness will have impressed a watching Warren Gatland. *LIONS CHAT KLAXON*
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)