Wednesday 18 October 2017

Brilliant, brave, scintillating Ireland have one hand on Six Nations title

Scotland 10 Ireland 40

Joe Schmidt's Ireland threw off the shackles and ran in four tries to secure a brilliant win over Scotland at Murrayfield.

Sean O'Brien grabbed two tries while further scores from skipper Paul O'Connell and Jared Payne ensured Joe Schmidt's team doubled their try count for the championship.

Johnny Sexton kicked another 18 points and substitute Ian Madigan two but the Irish will hope three missed penalties do not come back to bite them as the race for the crown looks set to be decided by points difference.

Finn Russell pulled one try back for the Scots but they were simply overrun by hungry opponents and end the tournament red-faced having lost all five games.

England were left needing to win by 26 points against France at Twickenham to snatch the title.

There was anticipation in the air as Ireland arrived at Murrayfield hoping that Scotland would not stand in their way of a second successive RBS 6 Nations title.

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the six nations trophy at Murrayfield Stadium. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the six nations trophy at Murrayfield Stadium. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Paul O'Connell (left), and Sean O'Brian with the six nations trophy. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Sean O'Brien of Ireland kisses the Six Nations trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell offers the trophy to the rest of the team. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Rob Kearney after winning the 2015 RBS Six Nations. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell with the Six Nations Trophy (left), as Jamie Heaslip sprays his team with champagne. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland celebrates winning the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Paul O'Connell lifts the six nations trophy. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Paul O'Connell lifts the six nations trophy as they celebrate. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Paul O'Connell celebrates with the Six Nations trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Simon Zebo and Conor Murray of Ireland celebrate victory. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip celebrates with the trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell lifts the trophy as his team mates celebrate. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Jamie Heaslip and Devin Toner celebrate with the trophy. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell celebrates after the RBS Six Nations win. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Paul O' Connell (third right) and team mates celebrate after the RBS Six Nations match. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Ireland players Jamie Heaslip (left) Rob Kearney (centre) and Sean O' Brien celebrate. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell carries his son Paddy from the pitch at the end of the game.
Jonathan Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne celebrate. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Connor Murray and Peter O'Mahony acknowledge the applause from the crowd at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Jonathon Sexton scores a penalty. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony acknowledges the applause from the crowd at the end of the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
Ireland's Jared Payne scoring a try during the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland's Jared Payne celebrates a try during the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Ireland's Paul O'Connell with the Centenary Quaich after the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Paul O'Connell with the Centenary Quaich after the match. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Scotlands Jim Hamilton and Irelands Jamie Heaslip compete in a line out. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Jonathan Sexton in action with Scotlands Finn Russell. Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Jared Payne is congratulated by team-mate Jonathan Sexton after scoring his side's third try.
Jared Payne touches down to score his side's third try of the game.
21 March 2015; Sean O'Brien, Ireland, scores his side's second try against Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Luke Fitzgerald, Ireland, is tackled by Stuart Hogg, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, is tackled by Jim Hamilton, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Stuart Hogg, Scotland, is tackled by Paul O'Connell and Cian Healy, Ireland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland supporters, from left, Richard, Daniel, Jack and Philip Boland, from The Curragh, Co. Kildare, ahead of the game.
21 March 2015; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, is tackled by Finn Russell, left, and Matt Scott, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland supporter Betty Corcoran, originally from Bray, Co. Wicklow, but living in Airdrie, Scotland, cheers the Ireland team's arrival into ground ahead of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland supporters John, Nicola and Charlie Collins, from Ballsbridge, Dublin, cheer the Ireland team on their arrival ahead of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland's Luke Fitzgerald arrives into the ground ahead of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Sean O'Brien scores their second try of the game during the 2015 RBS Six Nations match at the BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 21, 2015. See PA story RUGBYU Scotland. Photo credit should read: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire
21 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell goes over to score his side's first try, his seventh career try, in the fifth minute of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
21 March 2015; Ireland captain Paul O'Connell goes over to score his side's first try, his seventh career try, in the fifth minute of the game. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland. BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Paul O'Connell of Ireland scores the first try during the RBS Six Nations match between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield

Wales' 61-20 win over Italy in Rome raised the tension as the championship went to the wire and Joe Schmidt's Irishmen knew they would have to pile forward ahead of England's evening clash with France, with points difference looking like it would be required to settle the three-team title race.

Both side's made two changes for the Edinburgh meeting. Scotland head coach benched Alasdair Dickinson and Rob Harley and brought back Ryan Grant and Adam Ashe. The visitors, meanwhile, handed Luke Fitzgerald his first Test start in four years while Cian Healy also came in as Jack McGrath dropped to the ranks of the replacements and Simon Zebo missed out completely.

Wales' Rome triumph meant the Irish needed at least a 21-point win to keep hold of their crown and they wasted little time bulldozing over for a fourth-minute try.

A great break from Tommy Bowe took them to within a yard of the try line. And after the visitors kept the move alive, skipper Paul O'Connell found the room to squeeze round a ruck and finish off the touchdown to become Ireland's oldest ever scorer.

Jonathan Sexton added the extras and then a penalty to cement the perfect start.

The Scots had been shell-shocked by Ireland's ferocious opening but eventually got a foothold before putting themselves on the scoreboard when captain Greig Laidlaw knocked over a simple penalty.

But a clever pincer movement between Robbie Henshaw and Luke Fitzgerald almost put Ireland in again before Dougie Fife - back on after a brief spell off the pitch having a wounded tended - came up with a vital tackle.

There was no stopping O'Brien though as he brushed off the winger for the second score after 24 minutes. From a line-out, Devin Toner collected and turned to see the Leinster flanker offer the perfect angle as burst in for his fourth Test try. Sexton again converted.

But the hosts responded in style with eight minutes of the half left. Stuart Hogg pressurised Rob Kearney into dropping a grubber before Seymour drove the Scotland forward further. He was brought down five yards out but Laidlaw moved the ball wide for Russell to gallop round the back and score.

Paul O'Connell goes over for the first Ireland try:

Ireland's Call:

Laidlaw put the conversion over but Ireland clawed some points back with another Sexton kick. Hogg thought he had grabbed another try just before the break but French referee Jerome Garces had already blown up after Matt Scott knocked-on.

With the championship race set to be decided by points difference, the visitors piled forward in the early stages and got their reward as skipper Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien both scored, while Johnny Sexton added 10 points with his boot.

The Scots - hoping to avoid a fifth straight defeat - hit back, however, when Finn Russell scored his first try for his county to add to the five points kicked by captain Greig Laidlaw.

The second half was just four minutes old when Jim Hamilton handed Sexton another easy kick just under the posts after failing to role away after a tackle.

And the points continued to be tallied up for Ireland when Sexton opened up a hole in the Scottish defence for Jared Payne to run through with a simple dummy after 49 minutes. The Ulsterman's try was once again converted by Sexton.

However, the Racing Metro fly-half stuck the post with his next penalty attempt. Having conceded twice already this championship from rebounds, the Scots were just grateful the ball bounced their way this time.

But they were not so happy when they were reduced to 14 men. Substitute prop Geoff Cross was sent to the sin-bin for playing the ball illegally at a ruck - but Sexton showed his nerves when he wasted the chance to put Ireland out in front in the championship race as he screwed the penalty wide.

Sexton composed himself for his next effort though and nailed it through the posts to put Ireland on the verge of glory.

Ireland held a 19-point lead over the English but they were desperate for more.

From a five-yard line-out they worked through five phases before O'Brien wriggled past Al Dickinson to finish off another crucial try after 71 minutes. Substitute kicker Ian Madigan did the necessary with the conversion.

Irish hearts momentarily skipped a beat when it looked like Stuart Hogg had dived over for the Scots - but the television match official came to the rescue as the full-back's fumble just before grounding the ball was spotted.

Garces handed Schmidt's side a last-minute penalty but Madigan blew the chance to heap more pressure on England when he fluffed it wide.

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