Friday 25 May 2018

Ireland scalp Scots, clinch title and tee up Grand Slam

Ireland 28 Scotland 8

Conor Murray jumps for joy as Ireland secure victory over Scotland. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray jumps for joy as Ireland secure victory over Scotland. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The trip to Twickenham is still what Irish fans had hoped it would be: a chase for the Grand Slam. Even if it doesn't represent the same for England, who have been resigned to that for a couple of weeks now, and came up short of the target last night in Paris. But it's still a glorious proposition for an Ireland side who now have a record 11 straight wins, and equalled the record 12 games unbeaten established from 2008-2010.

Rugby may not be the game of the people in this country, a debate that has gathered some momentum over the last week especially, but clearly it's something we're good at. And under Joe Schmidt that record of achievement is stellar.

In five championship seasons Schmidt has secured three titles, with the possibility of this third one having a Grand Slam tagged on in Twickenham.

"It felt like a one-score game despite the 20 points difference on the scoreline," he said. "They butchered a few chances. They were massively up for it."

This was a hugely entertaining game, helped by a pitch that dried out well from the early morning mist and rain, and a Scotland side that did what they do best: play with width. Had they not been guilty of the butchery Schmidt referred to, it would have been a different afternoon.

Three likely tries went south on the back of poor passing decisions, or execution, by Huw Jones, Peter Horne and Stuart Hogg.

"We're proud of how the players played but frustrated that it didn't lead to a closer game, or to victory" Gregor Townsend said afterwards, referring to the profligacy. "We'll play Ireland twice again in the next 18 months - in the Six Nations and in the World Cup - and we need to be better than we were today to win."

The Jones delay in the first half, having done all the hard work, scuppered what was about to be the try of the season, and Horne had an extra bit of baggage to bear given it was he who also fired a handy intercept pass to Jacob Stockdale.

Within a millisecond of throwing it, he had his hands on his head as Stockdale raced away towards his fifth try of the championship. By the break he would make that six, to put him on 10 tries in eight Tests, and the first player since England's Cyril Lowe in 1914 to score multiple tries in three successive championship games.

Long before Stockdale was conceived there was a bloke by the name of Eddie Grant, another Ulster wing, who marked his first and only four caps with three tries, at least two of which were intercepts. He didn't last. Stockdale lacks some stickability when going backwards but he'll be around for a while yet.

Huw Jones of Scotland is tackled by Jacob Stockdale, left, and Garry Ringrose of Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile
Huw Jones of Scotland is tackled by Jacob Stockdale, left, and Garry Ringrose of Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

As ever with Ireland, there was huge resolve and attrition, and they looked for every opportunity to go through anything in a blue jersey. From all of this Rob Kearney picked up the man of the match award ahead of Garry Ringrose.

Kearney was very good at everything, not least the way he duped Hogg into making a bags of what should have been a try-scoring pass to debutant Blair Kinghorn, just after Conor Murray's try had eased Ireland towards a 21-3 early in the third quarter. It was a key moment.

As for Ringrose, despite very little gas in the tank, he graced the occasion with the quality of his footwork and vision. Up front, Dan Leavy, James Ryan and Cian Healy got through a huge amount of work. Leavy in particular has a knack of coming up with huge turnovers just when the opposition think they're on to something.

The bench too made the required impact with Jordi Murphy giving real impetus on his carries, and Seán Cronin getting over off the back of a maul for the bonus-point try. Ireland looked like they knew they were always going to win, that they could have responded no matter what Scotland threw at them.

From the outset they were full of intent, unwisely so when they passed up a handy three points in the early minutes in favour of putting the penalty to touch. With only six minutes on the clock in an evenly balanced contest, it was a bit early to infer a significant momentum trend. The lineout went south and Scotland, seven minutes later, opted to take their points when Peter O'Mahony was done for sealing off to protect Keith Earls.

Jacob Stockdale of Ireland celebrates with team-mate Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale of Ireland celebrates with team-mate Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

If Stockdale's intercept on 22 minutes sickened the Scots then the nausea was deepened being hit just before the half-time whistle. Again it was Stockdale. From a scrum in a perfect spot in the Scotland 22 they ran a few phases open before Ringrose worked back to the touchline to put the wing in a one on one which he finished neatly.

Statistically, Ireland were better on all metrics but 14-3 flattered them. When Murray scored on 46 minutes - Finn Russell crept up offside which only encouraged the Irish scrumhalf to exploit the gap - it was a long way back for Townsend's team.

A try for Kinghorn on 52 minutes put them on the map, but if you consider that was the meat in the sandwich between Hogg and Horne getting it badly wrong, you see how the picture might have been different.

Perhaps that was what made Johnny Sexton shoot for goal on 65 minutes. On an afternoon when kicking out of hand was an issue for him, this one off the tee went awry.

Cronin's bonus-point touch down meant it didn't matter. Schmidt reported a team clear of notable injuries ahead of the spin to London later in the week. But they will need every minute to recover.

Ireland: R Kearney (J Larmour 75); K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery 73), C Murray (K Marmion 71); C Healy (J McGrath 51), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 66), T Furlong (A Porter 62), J Ryan, D Toner (I Henderson 55), P O'Mahony (J Murphy 55), CJ Stander, D Leavy.

Scotland: S Hogg; B Kinghorn (L Jones 30-37 HIA), H Jones, P Horne (N Grigg 73), S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw (A Price 67); G Reid (J Bhatti 55), S McInally (F Brown 60), S Berghan (WP Nel 55), G Gilchrist, J Gray (T Swinson 71), J Barclay (capt), R Wilson, (D Denton 18 HIA), H Watson.

Referee: W Barnes (England)

Scorers - Ireland: Stockdale 2 tries, Murray, Cronin try each; Sexton 4 cons. Scotland: Kinghorn try; Laidlaw pen.

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