Thursday 16 August 2018

England need a five-point haul in Paris to deny Ireland the Six Nations title after Joe Schmidt's side down Scotland

Ireland 28 Scotland 8

Ireland players and supporters celebrate after Sean Cronin scored their side's fourth try during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland players and supporters celebrate after Sean Cronin scored their side's fourth try during the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The Six Nations title is within Ireland’s grasp, the Grand Slam is on the table as they go to Twickenham next week.

Depending on what happens in Paris this evening, they could be guaranteed a trophy presentation on St Patrick’s Day. England need a bonus point win to keep their chances alive, they need a lot of points to haul in Ireland’ s 44 points differential.

This was their record 11th successive win and they secured it without hitting their potential during a scrappy first-half.

Garry Ringrose was an influential figure on his return to the international arena, while Dan Leavy and Rob Kearney had big games. Jacob Stockdale got over for his now customary pair of tries, becoming just the second player in the 137 year history of the tournament to grab a brace in three successive games.

Scotland caused them problems with their clever attacking game, but they too often botched their own opportunities. Ireland were far more clinical.

They started with intent, but ran aground as the first-half got going.

Having turned over an early Scottish lineout drive, Ireland got their first chance to attack when Kearney’s pressure forced Finn Russell into spilling Johnny Sexton’s up and under.

Ryan Wilson was penalised for slowing the ball after a strong CJ Stander carry and the out-half went to the corner only for Peter O’Mahony to fail to hold Rory Best’s throw and while they got another chance to attack Sexton was penalised for a forward pass and the Scots got the chance to exit.

Another piece of Kearney pressure forced Wilson into a similar spill, but Scotland’s breakdown work got them out of trouble as hooker Stuart McInally forced a penalty.

Instead, it was the visitors who opened the scoring as Sexton fumbled, Huw Jones got away with a knock-on of his own and Kearney and Stander were pinged for sealing off. Greig Laidlaw made no mistake with the penalty.

Ireland needed a strong Dan Leavy breakdown intervention to get his side out of trouble after brilliant work by Blair Kinghorn, Wilson and Russell combined brilliantly up the right and then looked threatening through the phases until the Leinster man won a penalty.

The home side were struggling for momentum, but their out-half pulled a trick out of the bag to get them going – collecting his own chip and feeding Conor Murray who, stumbling, couldn’t get his off-load away and then Bundee Aki went the wrong way from the breakdown and the Scots escaped as Sean Maitland dealt with a cross-kick from Sexton that went too deep.

Scotland looked by far the more threatening team, with Stuart Hogg producing a brilliant off-load only for Peter Horne to throw an inviting pass for Jacob Stockdale to do his thing and the Ulster youngster gladly picked it off to add to his burgeoning haul of international tries.

Sexton converted and Ireland returned to Scottish territory thanks to a clever scrum move that saw Bundee Aki unleash Garry Ringrose who raced from his own half to the edge of the Scottish ’22, but the attack became laboured and Hamish Watson turned the ball over.

Scotland should have had a try as Huw Jones ruined his own brilliant work by hurling a terrible final pass at Hogg who had the line beckoning. Sexton did well to pressurise him, but the centre will have nightmares about it.

Instead it was Ireland who struck on the stroke of half-time, with Ringrose at the heart of a second Stockdale score.

His tip on pass freed Kearney up the left and while the first attempt to score was held up, there was still time for the scrum.

The set-piece held firm and after a dig right, they swung left where the centre worked a clever loop on Aki to release Stockdale for his 10th try in eight internationals.

Sexton converted from the touchline to give his side an 11 point cushion at the break, one that scarcely seemed fair on the visitors who had created plenty in an entertaining 40 minutes.

They needed a brilliant piece of defending from O’Mahony to keep it that way as Kinghorn got outside Ringrose but was hauled down by the Munster skipper who then got back on his feet to force the penalty.

Ireland showed their intent to go and win the tournament by turning down points to go to the corner and they got their reward as Murray peeled off the back of the driving maul and bullied his way over with a little help from Aki.

Sexton nailed the conversion and the Six Nations leaders were one try away from putting themselves in an almost unassailable position in the championship stakes.

Two quick penalty concessions halted their march and allowed Scotland back into the game as John Barclay called for a scrum beneath the posts after Ringrose strayed offside and having gained a metre with the shove the backs wrapped right, with Russell, Hogg and Maitland combining to put Kinghorn into the corner.

Laidlaw’s conversion struck the cross-bar to leave the gap at 13, but it might have been much tighter had Horne not butchered his wide pass to Kinghorn after arcing outside Dan Leavy when a simple pop would have put Jones through.

Back came Ireland and more neat work from Ringrose got them close to the line, but Murray’s final surge was held up over the line.

The next attempt to score was stopped short by a brilliant piece of ruck-work from Fraser Brown who got over the ball after a Ringrose carry and the combined efforts of Kearney and Leavy couldn’t shift him.

Poor Scottish discipline handed the home side another opportunity and Rory Best opted to extend the lead rather than go to the corner but Sexton was off-target.

When Barclay handed them another chance, the out-half went to the corner. With his first touch, Sean Cronin threw the ball in. With his second, he crawled over from the back of the maul to secure the bonus point and put Ireland on the cusp of title glory.

The game petered out after that as the Scots tried to get a consolation score and Ireland protected their key men and their points differential to close it out.

Onwards to Twickenham.

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), D Leavy, CJ Stander.

SCOTLAND -- S Hogg; B Kinghorn (L Jones 29-37), 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), H Watson, R Wilson (D Denton 18).

Referee: W Barnes (England)

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