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Ireland blow hot and cold to survive close call

Ireland 19 Scotland 12

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Johnny Sexton scores the only try of the game against Scotland yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton scores the only try of the game against Scotland yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Johnny Sexton scores the only try of the game against Scotland yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

What we feared would be a spin down a wind tunnel in a game flowing freely for only the lads in the green bus, was something altogether different. It was at times thrilling, often error-prone, but with an edge to it that kept everyone tuned in until Robbie Henshaw put his orange boot to the ball and lorried it into the Havelock Square end. We were in overtime by then.

The crowd were pleased momentarily, you suspect: glad that Ireland came out the right side, not so happy that it had been so stressful, and that there wasn't much to take away that would suggest a corner has been turned at high speed by the new management.

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Johnny Sexton launches the ball against Scotland last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton launches the ball against Scotland last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

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They were relieved to get off the field and start patching up the casualties - the most notable were debutant Caelan Doris, concussed inside a few minutes, followed by Garry Ringrose and then Dave Kilcoyne, who also seemed to have got a ding. Cian Healy was up and down off the bench like he was sitting on splinters. So, good value from a contest that brought everyone down to the wire; not so good if you had come to herald a new era for the home team.

Ireland's scrum was ordinary, which it shouldn't have been given Scotland were dredging up Rory Sutherland for his first Test in four years. There were only seven scrums in the game but there was no value to be had. And not a lot either from phase play where Scotland rarely looked stressed.

The visitors started and finished the game on top but not with anything to show for it. At least, despite their awful build-up having lost Finn Russell a week ago, they were well up for the fight.

At one point in the first half, with the crowd hollering at referee Mathieu Raynal to go upstairs for a late tap tackle by Stuart Hogg on opposite number Jordan Larmour, a couple of the Scotland players seemed to be willing the crowd to give it some more welly. Perfect. Raynal said he wasn't for turning - he was wrong, but whatever - and it sprinkled some more spice into a contest that had lots of verbals attached to its close exchanges.

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Scotland's Ali Price is challenged by Ireland's John Cooney and Josh van der Flier. Photo: Sportsfile

Scotland's Ali Price is challenged by Ireland's John Cooney and Josh van der Flier. Photo: Sportsfile

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Unfortunately it had a clatter of mistakes as well, which Scotland could not punish, despite having a decent set-piece and good attack shape. Adam Hastings got them off to a flyer with an early penalty, only to see it overhauled by Johnny Sexton when he got over after Ireland cleverly made full use of close-in pressure on 10 minutes. Scotland would never get the lead again.

It was unlikely that either side would have broken down the door to their changing room to get inside and high-five each other over all the good work. Scotland had more of the territory though less of the ball, which was an appropriate soundtrack for a production that usually threatens more than it delivers. As for their hosts, it felt like they had been on the wrong end of lots of things without letting it reflect on their half of the scoreboard.

Not ideal, but not disastrous either.

Had Sexton nailed a penalty, won well by Rob Herring for hounding Hastings, the home side would have gone in 13-6 to the good. That would have seriously bothered Scotland, for to have failed to convert at one end over a sustained period in pole position, and then conceded back-to-back penalties to close the half, would have been a sickener.

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Scotland's Scott Cummings wins possession in a line-out ahead of Ireland's Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile

Scotland's Scott Cummings wins possession in a line-out ahead of Ireland's Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile

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Their profligacy was at its worst early in the second quarter when, trailing 7-6, they put together the following sequence: having boomed their way close to Ireland's line courtesy of a massive Hogg penalty they knocked on at the lineout; then they lost the next throw; then, on having attacked the far corner, they coughed up a penalty to replacement Peter O'Mahony, a few metres from the Ireland line. Maddening if you were dressed in navy blue.

Ha'penny place stuff though compared to the Hogg cock-up on 51 minutes. Having been handed a grand platform thanks to Larmour stepping out of play as he tried to counter from deep, Scotland than got a penalty advantage when Sam Johnson - who was good going forward - forced Ireland offside. Having worked the space in the corner for the full-back to flop over and score, instead he went to place the ball - and lost it forward. That they could go back for the penalty advantage, for Hastings to tap over for three, didn't ease the pain. In a sport where the term 'unforced errors' is much abused, this was as unforced as you'll get. "Yeah - schoolboy error," Hogg said afterwards. "I can't change what's happened now. Just apologise to the boys but what will be will be - have to move on."

That made it 13-9. A few minutes later Sexton made it 16-9. That served only to illustrate the point. Imagine the buzz in the Scotland side if they had been lining up for the restart on level terms instead of in arrears?

There was more to come. Having settled down again and pulled back another three points through Hastings they were then done for three points when Johnson took Andrew Conway out as the winger chased a Sexton kick.

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Ireland's Devin Toner celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Devin Toner celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile

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Sexton probably thought they'd be tacking on another few points after that successful kick but instead Ireland were soon in crisis mode.

A clean break from Hamish Watson put Scotland into pick and jam territory, which went on for an age before man of the match CJ Stander came up with the steal. Even then, Ireland had to sweat some more when Raynal free- kicked them for closing the gap at the ensuing lineout. They got away with it. On a very blustery day this was hardly a whirlwind start for Ireland, but better than being beaten.

Scorers - Ireland: J Sexton try, 4 pens, con. Scotland: A Hastings 4 pens

Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose (R Henshaw ht), B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 73), C Murray (J Cooney 60); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 50; C Healy 51; A Porter 66), R Herring (R Kelleher 73), T Furlong (C Healy 78), I Henderson (D Toner 65) J Ryan, CJ Stander, C Doris (P O'Mahony 5), J van der Flier

Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, H Jones (C Harris 65), S Johnson (R Hutchinson 73), B Kinghorn; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 65); R Sutherland (A Dell 65), F Brown (S McInally 46 -51; blood), Z Fagerson (W Nel 73), S Cummings, J Gray (B Toolis 65), J Ritchie, N Haining (C du Preez 73) , H Watson

Referee: M Raynal (France)

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