| 6°C Dublin

Sexton leads from the front despite a day of disruption

Ireland 19 Scotland 12

Close

Ireland's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ireland's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

Ireland's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Before the game, Ireland might have visualised Saturday's Six Nations opener as a fresh start, a chance to implement the things they'd worked on during their brief warm-up camp in Portugal and a return to their home crowd and the familiarity of the Aviva Stadium.

It didn't quite work out that way.

After all, few predicted that the Scots would unleash a furious opening salvo in the way England did a year previously without, as so often is the case, the end product.

Nobody could have foreseen the erratic nature of referee Mathieu Raynal's performance as he allowed the scrum and the breakdown to be free-for-alls and missed key moments along the way.

And then there was the loss of Caelan Doris after just four minutes, forcing Farrell back to the imbalanced World Cup back row for 76 minutes and depriving him of a bench option. Throw in the half-time replacement of Garry Ringrose and Dave Kilcoyne's suspected concussion a minute after coming on and the disruption was a real factor.

Andy Farrell has been alongside Stuart Lancaster, Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt for enough Test matches to know full well what they can throw up.

Close

Ireland's Jordan Larmour in action with Scotland's Adam Hastings. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Ireland's Jordan Larmour in action with Scotland's Adam Hastings. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

REUTERS

Consider Cian Healy's day. The loosehead prop conceded two penalties and was withdrawn after the second, 10 minutes after half-time. Within a minute, he was brought back on for the sparked Kilcoyne and on 65 minutes he was called ashore for Andrew Porter. When Tadhg Furlong could go no further, Healy was summoned once again.

So, Farrell's team had to deal with adversity and they came through it - just about.

The Scots will have many regrets. They've been to Dublin 21 times in the Six Nations and rarely have they played better.

Their one win was a smash-and-grab effort, but you couldn't say that on Saturday where they brought physical force to the table and created enough pressure to spend almost six minutes in the Ireland '22.

Close

Ireland's CJ Stander (centre) is tackled by Scotland's Rory Sutherland and Scott Cummings. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ireland's CJ Stander (centre) is tackled by Scotland's Rory Sutherland and Scott Cummings. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

The problem for them was, they only managed six points from those 11 visits which is an appalling return.

In part, that was down to their own errors and Stuart Hogg's brain fade as he dropped the ball in the act of touching it down.

But Ireland deserve plaudits for their defensive work. Doris set the tone with a superb breakdown penalty minutes in, with CJ Stander repeating the trick late on to keep up the theme.

In total, they effected five key ruck penalties when the pressure came on.

Close

Ireland's Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Scotland's Hamish Watson. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ireland's Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Scotland's Hamish Watson. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

"You can't account for some of that bravery in some of those plays, it was incredible," captain Johnny Sexton said.

"Some of the guys tracking back, 70, 75 minutes in towards the end getting back to make tackles. Unbelievably proud for me to captain some of those guys. We're onto next week now."

The skipper played his part, scoring all of Ireland's 19 points as he returned from a long lay-off in fine fettle.

The try, which came during a period of pressure with penalty advantage, was a cleverly conceived and brilliantly executed in-phase power-play which smacked of good training ground work.

But for most of a scatter-gun 80 minutes, it was hard to get a handle on the patterns Ireland were trying to play.

Partly, that was down to their need to manage the scoreboard and the decision to settle for points when they had the Scots on the rack. Some of it was down to their own inaccuracy and poor decisions.

Farrell was quick to praise the team, but behind closed doors this morning he'll point to moments where they went wide and ignored the spaces in front of them.

"I thought there were glimpses. We got too carried away at times. Sometimes the decision making was good, sometimes it was a bit wayward," he said.

"It's a work in progress. But we asked the boys to stand for something and it was true Irish grit. The rest of it we'll keep building on. There's some good, but there's plenty to work on and we'll have a look at the Welsh game now."

But he'll be pleased with their defensive work, their character and their work-rate.

The Scots put pressure on this Irish team and they responded well enough to just get over the line.

IRELAND - J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (capt) (R Byrne 73, C Murray; C Healy (D Kilcoyne 50-51) (A Porter 66), R Herring (R Kelleher 73), T Furlong (C Healy 78); I Henderson (D Toner 68), J Ryan; CJ Stander, J van der Flier, C Doris (P O'Mahony 5).

SCOTLAND - S Hogg (capt); S Maitland, H Jones (C Harris 66), S Johnson (R Hutchinson 74), B Kinghorn; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 65); R Sutherland (A Dell 65), F Brown (S McInally 46-51, 57), Z Fagerson (WP Nel 73); S Cummings, J Gray (B Toolis 65) J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining (C du Preez 74).

Ref - M Raynal (France).

Irish Independent