John_s_version_3Ireland: (21) 35
TRY: CJ Stander, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Devin Toner. CON: Jonathan Sexton (3). PEN: Jonathan Sexton (3).
Scotland: (13) 25
TRY: Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray, Alex Dunbar, CON: Greg Laidlaw (2) PEN: Greig Laidlaw (2).

Ireland did enough to keep their noses in front in this feisty fixture at the Aviva Stadium yesterday afternoon. It was a thoroughly entertaining match with the straight jacket of the “play book” somewhat relaxed (thanks largely to the Scots) however, I still can’t figure out if Ireland won this one by luck, design or (Scottish) stupidity  😯 as the game certainly had a mixture of all three!

Design

I’d predicted the Scottish front five to cause Ireland problems but that proved not to be the case which allowed Ireland to keep it tight up front and their dominance released the back row to be at their destructive best with Ireland forcing thirteen turnovers to Scotland’s six. 

Ireland set their stall out early, peppering the Scottish defence with high kicks, the result of which saw Ireland lead 9 – 3 after 17 minutes with Sexton landing three penalties to Laidlaw’s one. 

However it was a loose kick to Hogg that sparked the game to life with the Scottish full back spotting Ross and Best in the defensive line up and backed himself to take the long route round Ross to race clear from the half way line. Laidlaw converted to give Scotland a 9 – 10 lead! 

Ireland looked to their pack to respond and respond it did setting up camp in the Scottish half. The influential Barclay was binned at the breakdown and within minutes Stander was diving over the heap of bodies on the Scots try line to splash down on the other side with his second international try in the bag. Sexton converted and Ireland were back in front at 16 – 10. 

Luck

Ireland had all the territory and possession but, to be honest, they didn’t look too inventive. Barclay’s departure was a tough call but probably deserved, though by the same token Ireland were lucky to keep Sexton on the pitch in the second half for lying all over the ball during Scottish attacks! 

However, nothing went right for the Scots as Barclay cooled his heels on the bench. Weir kicked his re-start, from Stander’s try, straight into touch and when Sexton dinked a speculative kick towards the Scottish 22 Hogg and Seymour collided with the ball bouncing free for Earls to snap up and sprint for the line. 

Sexton missed the conversion but Ireland were good value for their 21 – 10 lead though Laidlaw reduced the defect with the last kick of the half to see the teams turn round at 21 – 13, the dogged Scots hanging in there. 

Ireland looked to have wrapped the game up ten minutes after the restart as a break down the right by Payne and Trimble ended up with Murray darting over. Sexton added the conversion and at 28 – 13 there looked no way back for the visitors. 

However the introduction of Stuart McNally and Josh Strauss gave the Scots some go forward and within minutes they were pounding the Irish line. Sexton was lucky not to get carded at this point, so frequent and flagrant were his attempts to kill the ball, the Irish out half “lucky” that big Richie Grey eventually crossed under the posts. 

Laidlaw knocked over the easiest of conversions and the game was back on at 28 – 20. 

Stupidity.

Yes, game back on and Scotland looking the team most likely until Alex Dunbar committed an act guilty of “lack of foresight” to say the least.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if the word that went round the Scottish side, as they huddled together after Gray’s score, was along the lines, “If you see thon Sexton trying to flop all over the ball at the breakdown again throw him out of the way”, as flop he did at the previous two. However Dunbar chucking him over his shoulder, to land fairly harmlessly, was brought to the ref’s attention by Sexton’s amateur dramatics.

Stupid on one side and I’d say stupid on the other, the net result being Dunbar binned along with Scotland’s chances. A real pity that a game that was warming up nicely should end this way. 

The game descended into outbreaks of push and shove at every breakdown. In between the posturing, an attacking line out maul for Ireland led to Devin Toner diving over for his first ever score, fortunately landing on the ball and not his head. Sexton converted to give Ireland a 35 – 20 lead with twelve minutes still to play and, this time, it was the game.

Sexton did eventually get carded, with three minutes left, and Dunbar went some-way to atoning for his stupidity with a late try, to take the final score to 35 – 25, but it probably only served to remind his team-mates of what might have been if they had only maintained their discipline. 

Ireland: Simon Zebo, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner, CJ Stander, Tommy O’Donnell, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Richard Strauss, Cian Healey, Nathan White, Ultan Dillane, Rhys Ruddock, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.

#SUFTUM