Disastrous start for Ireland as Joe Schmidt's men are beaten in Murrayfield
Scotland 27 Ireland 22
Ireland’s Six Nations bubble was firmly burst at Murrayfield as they collected the tournament’s first bonus point but left with their Grand Slam ambitions in dust.
Joe Schmidt’s side will lament a hugely under-par first-half when their lineout creaked and Andy Farrell’s defence crumbled, allowing Scotland to score three tries to get ahead. Ireland clawed their way back, but couldn’t manage the end game and two Greig Laidlaw penalties proved the difference.
All of the positive energy generated in November disappeared in Edinburgh as Ireland's limited attacking tactical game and lack of accuracy at critical moments cost them dear.
"Ultimately the way we started cost us," captain Rory Best said.
"They started how we thought they wood, with a lot of intent and emotion and we didn't do enough.
"In a Six Nations game away from home if you start like that it's going to be very difficult."
Scotland were excellent in the first-half, but looked vulnerable as Ireland fought back.
When they got in front, Ireland couldn't capitalise and they'll leave with huge regret.
With the expected rain holding off, Scotland’s wide-game thrived and every time they got the ball to the edge of Ireland’s defence they gained ground and looked likely to score.
The visiting scrum was utterly dominant, but there was little else to admire about the Irish play in an insipid opening half as they let a couple of lineout opportunities slip through their own inaccuracy and some good Scottish pressure.
Keen to put their reputation as slow Six Nations starters behind them, then Scots tore into their task and despite losing hooker Fraser Brown to an early blood injury they took the lead after seven minutes.
Handed field position by a poor Keith Earls kick when he might have passed to the better positioned Rob Kearney, they home side worked made yards up the right through Tommy Seymour before rumbling towards the line through Richie Gray, Ross Ford and Hamish Watson to suck the Irish defence in.
Spotting the overlap, Finn Russell threw a loopy, loose pass wide that tempted Garry Ringrose to go for the ball but he didn’t make it and his absence from the line allowed Stuart Hogg to cross untouched.
It was the start Murrayfield dreamt of and while Ireland attempted to hit back instantly as Simon Zebo caught the kick-off and Sean O’Brien made big gains off a pick and go but after Romain Poite penalised the Scots twice and Ireland went to the corner both times their maul was penalised for obstruction and a glorious chance passed.
Schmidt’s side had plenty of possession and territory, but they failed to make it count and it was again the home side who showed the way as Hogg scored a scintillating second.
It was simple stuff, capitalising on a lost Irish lineout Zander Fagerson won a poach-penalty from Simon Zebo and Russell found touch on the edge of the ’22. Scotland sent Josh Strauss up the middle, before a quick recycle saw them work another over-lap and with Rob Kearney drifting on to Sean Maitland Hogg had too much pace for the covering Earls.
Laidlaw converted and Ireland were in real trouble, but they finally got over the line within minutes when Robbie Henshaw made a good carry and a despairing Sean Maitland tackle stopped Paddy Jackson short of the line. With Poite playing advantage, Zebo threw a risky pass wide and while Hogg got two hands on the ball, it slipped through his grasp and Earls finished well in the corner.
Jackson missed the conversion and all of that good work was undone in minutes as Scotland moved within one score of the Championship’s first bonus point with a clever lineout move.
Again, it was self-inflicted from Ireland’s perspective as Conor Murray threw a risky pass off Rob Kearney and a retreating Zebo was forced into touch as Russell chipped in behind.
The Scots stuck centre Alex Dunbar into the lineout but Ireland seemed not to notice. Ford found the back at the front and he dived over to the joy of the home crowd.
Laidlaw again nailed the extras, Jackson hit back with a penalty from right in front of the posts before the half finished with Zebo saving Ireland’s skin with an intercept as Scotland chased their fourth try. He couldn’t beat Tommy Seymour in the race for the Scottish line, but the home side remained within range at 21-8 when Greig Laidlaw kicked the ball to touch.
Ireland needed to score first after half-time and although they lost their first lineout in Scottish territory an O’Brien poached allowed them kick it deep and retain the ball and when Seymour was penalised for not rolling away under the posts Best went for the scrum.
The home pack held firm, but their Ireland stayed patient and Iain Henderson crashed over from close range and Jackson converted to make it a one-score game.
Ireland spurned a glorious opportunity when Russell kicked the ball against Murray who picked up and raced in-field before finding Jamie Heaslip who was stopped short but popped the ball into Scottish hands.
Maitland prevented a certain try with his last ditch tackle on Rob Kearney who had left Hogg for dead, but his foot slipped into touch before he passed inside to Earls.
With the Scots visibly tiring, the score was beginning to seem inevitable and it came after a Garry Ringrose show-and-go before Jackson stepped inside Dunbar to score.
The out-half converted his own score to edge Ireland in front as Schmidt began to unleash his bench and the Irish pressure game continued but they couldn’t gain scoreboard separation and a penalty concession for hands in the ruck handed Scotland a rare trip into the opposition half.
Poite penalised Jackson for not rolling and Laidlaw put his side back in front and when Ireland attempted to hit back a Stander knock-on meant Scotland could finish the game on the front-foot.
Tommy Bowe went high on Seymour but escaped a yellow card and rather than kick at goal, Laidlaw went for the killer bonus point try by kicking to touch.
They came up short, but forced a penalty. This time the Scotland captain went for the points and there was no time for another Irish fight-back.
SCOTLAND – S Hogg; S Maitland, H Jones (M Bennett 60), A Dunbar, T Seymour; F Russell (D Weir 46-52 HIA), G Laidlaw (capt); A Dell (G Reid 56), F Brown (R Ford 5-10 Blood, 26), Z Fagerson; R Gray, J Gray; R Wilson, H Watson (J Barclay 49), J Strauss (T Swinson 66).
IRELAND – R Kearney; K Earls (T Bowe 68), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath (C Healy 56), R Best (N Scannell ), T Furlong (J Ryan 69); D Toner, I Henderson; CJ Stander, S O’Brien (J van der Flier 66), J Heaslip.
Referee: R Poite (France)