|2018 Six Nations|
|Ireland (14) 28|
|Tries: Stockdale 2, Murray, Cronin Cons: Sexton 4|
|Scotland (3) 8|
|Try: Kinghorn Pen: Laidlaw|
Six Nations leaders Ireland secured a bonus-point win over Scotland to put the pressure on title rivals England.
The Irish victory means they will be champions if the English do not also score four tries and win away in France in Saturday’s later match.
Two tries by Jacob Stockdale and further scores by Conor Murray and Sean Cronin secured a deserved Irish win.
Blair Kinghorn scored on his first Test start for Scotland, but the visitors were left to rue missed chances.
In a game of unrelenting pace, both teams created opportunities – but it was Ireland who proved more ruthless when it counted.
Counting the cost
Perhaps it was the occasion, or maybe the conditions – but both teams were left to count the cost of a frenetic opening quarter.
Ireland were guilty of a number of sloppy errors as obvious passes were missed, balls were fumbled and even Johnny Sexton’s trademark wraparound misfired more than once – including in the build-up to Greig Laidlaw’s opening penalty.
The Scotland scrum-half split the posts and – against the run of play – the visitors led after 12 minutes, despite Ireland dominating territory and turning down a kickable shot at goal in favour of going to the corner.
However the biggest mistake of the opening half was by Scotland’s inside centre Peter Horne, who had players out wide but paid the price for his ambitious skip pass out wide that was read by Stockdale, who scampered over for the opening try.
The game was being played at an incredible pace as both teams battled to keep the ball alive as much as possible.
Ireland were under pressure when Keith Earls sent a pass floating into touch and then Sean Maitland burnt past his opposite number Stockdale in a flowing move that featured Ryan Wilson and Finn Russell.
Sexton and Russell were driving the tempo and both fly-halves took quick line-outs in an attempt to gain an edge, with Russell and Stuart Hogg combining to allow Huw Jones to attack down the left wing.
The centre gathered his own chip over Earls and broke Rob Kearney’s tackle, but then butchered a two-on-one against Sexton when his pass to Hogg drifted forward.
Ireland were not as wasteful with their attacks as Sexton and Murray combined to carve their way through the centre of the Scottish defence.
Then Garry Ringrose produced a sublime tip-on pass to send Kearney careering down the left wing, only for Murray to be held up over the line.
From the five-metre scrum, and with the clock in red, Ringrose again showed his playmaking ability with quick hands releasing Stockdale to send Ireland into an 11-point lead at the break.
Scotland’s away day blues
Scotland have now played 47 away matches since the inception of the Six Nations in 2000 and have won just six – four of them in Rome.
Gregor Townsend’s side need to develop a meaner streak away from Murrayfield if they are to make the step up to the next level.
They were caught cold at the start of the second half after conceding a needless penalty that allowed Ireland go to the corner, and Murray darted off the tail of the resulting maul to power over for his 12th Irish try.
The visitors then produced another purple patch, but Maitland and Horne both sent passes into touch before a well-worked training ground move featuring Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland allowed Kinghorn to score on his full Test debut.
Ireland chase the title
Ireland knew the championship was within their grasp and they went after the bonus score with real intent.
Ringrose was held up under the posts and Fraser Brown won a relieving penalty for his side, but the green wave kept coming.
Sexton turned down another opportunity to kick for the posts and Sean Cronin, just moments after his arrival off the bench, muscled his way over for a try that reverberated across Dublin.
Schmidt and his players must brace themselves for a week of Grand Slam fervour as the visit to Twickenham looms large on the horizon.
Schmidt’s current crop are attempting to become just the third Irish side to win a Grand Slam and join the legendary teams of 1948 and 2009.
Scotland will travel to Rome for ‘Super Saturday’, when they will be heavily favoured to finish their championship on a winning note.
It will be fascinating to see if Townsend chooses to recall the likes of Richie Gray or Alex Dunbar, or if he will give the team that won the Calcutta Cup another opportunity.
Man of the match – Rob Kearney (Ireland)
Ireland: Kearney; Earls, Ringrose, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Furlong, James Ryan, Toner, O’Mahony, Leavy, Stander.
Replacements: Cronin (Best, 66), McGrath (Healy, 51), Porter (Furlong, 61), Henderson (Toner, 54), Murphy (O’Mahony, 54), Marmion (Murray, 71), Carbery (Sexton, 73), Larmour (Kearney, 75).
Scotland: Hogg; Kinghorn, H Jones, Horne, Maitland; Russell, Laidlaw; Reid, McInally, Berghan, Gilchrist, J Gray, Barclay, Watson, Wilson.
Replacements: Brown (McInally, 59), Bhatti (Reid, 54), Nel (Berghan, 54), Swinson (Gray, 71), Denton (Wilson, 18), Price (Laidlaw, 67), Grigg (Horne, 73), L Jones.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Touch judges: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) & Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)