Scotland 7 v 22 Ireland
Ireland took another step towards the Grand Slam with a clinical victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. Ravaged by injuries that saw Cian Healy packing down at hooker and Josh van der Flier throwing into the line out in the second half, Ireland showed the mettle of champions to come through. Ireland never let those setbacks derail them, showing the immense belief of their entire squad. The best teams can problem-solve on the hoof, and Ireland demonstrated why they are the best side in the world on Sunday. After an even first half, Scotland would have been scenting blood after the restart, but Ireland had another gear, able to pull away and close out the game comfortably.
Scotland headed into the game riding a wave of goodwill, ready to take on the world’s best and take the fight for the championship into the last weekend. In the first half, they more than matched Ireland, attacking with real vim and vigour and defending with tigerish intensity. However, they failed to reach the same heights in the second half, and with Ireland’s injury woes, it will feel like a missed opportunity for Gregor Townsend’s men. The gulf in class was clear in the second half; Ireland’s confidence grew as Scotland’s accuracy waned. The pre-match anticipation was ultimately replaced by disappointment. Ireland too big a beast to slay.Embed from Getty Images
Scotland started the game with the wind and the crowd behind them. Murrayfield whipped into a frenzy, brimming with excitement, and Scotland looked to play from the get-go, utilising a deep set-up and seeking to get around Ireland’s press and target the wide channels. Scotland’s desire to play at tempo almost had disastrous consequences, George Turner overshooting a throw on his five-metre line, Caelan Doris’s acrobatic take leading to a try. But they received a reprieve; Turner had taken the throw with a different ball, the intricacies of the rule book sparing Scottish embarrassment.
Ireland were looking to curb Scotland’s attacking enthusiasm with a probing kicking game, penning them back in their half. Jonny Sexton gave them the lead with a penalty, but any joy was short-lived, as Doris was forced off injured, the first of several injuries that tested Ireland’s resolve. Scotland’s attacking game was starting to strut, but Ireland’s defence was up to the task, a seventeen-phase attack ending with Stuart Hogg being ushered into touch. However, Scotland soon had the game’s first try, Russell’s half-break and Van der Merwe’s power kick-starting the move, and not the first time this championship Sione Tuipulotu fed Huw Jones to score.
The physicality was off the charts, and Ian Henderson became the game’s next victim, Ryan Baird entering the fray. Big hits were flying in on both sides, but crucially Scotland were able to disrupt the breakdown, slowing down the Irish ball a fraction. But Farrell’s men can’t be kept quiet for long, and after a sustained attack, Scotland’s defence was caught narrow, Mack Hansen finishing superbly in the corner. Scotland almost hit back immediately from a line-out move, only Hugo Keenan’s superb tackle stopping Duhan van der Merwe. Scotland’s defence was similarly forced to dig deep towards the end of the half, and after repelling waves of Irish attacks, they had the last chance of the half, Russell nudging a penalty deep into the Irish 22. Ireland’s defence was equal to the task, and they went into halftime with a slender one-point lead.Embed from Getty Images
The game was well and truly in the balance, and the second half started at a breathless pace. Ronan Kelleher’s injury meant that Ireland had lost both their hookers, leaving van der Flier throwing in, something Scotland failed to capitalise on. Despite the disruption, Ireland maintained their composure and started to win the small moments as Scotland struggled to gain any momentum. Jamie Ritchie was marched back ten metres after disputing one of Luke Pearce’s decisions, a sign Scotland were getting a little frazzled. Jamison Gibson-Park replaced Connor Murray, and Ireland started to up the tempo as the match entered a crucial period.
Mack Hansen was proving to be a pivotal figure, winning a vital turnover and playing a leading role in Ireland’s second try, rising like a salmon to claim Gibson-Park’s box kick over van der Merwe’s head. Hansen offloaded to Sexton, who surged on, and after a brief period of battering, the ball was worked wide, where James Lowe provided the finish. Ireland’s lead was now beyond a converted score, and they went up another gear, Scotland unable to cope with the relentless efficiency of their attack. Jack Conan, who had a monstrous game filling Doris’s sizeable shoes, scored their third try, the instrumental Hansen providing the pass.
Scotland never gave up, showing plenty of endeavour, but you felt the belief had been beaten out of them, a fifteen-point deficit an insurmountable task. The brutal nature of the game was catching up with them, with Stuart Hogg forced off injured, while there was a long delay after a nasty injury to Garry Ringrose. Thankfully, the IRFU has said Ringrose is “doing well” after the injury. Scotland kept battering away, but Ireland’s defence was merciless, unwilling to give an inch. Ireland almost sealed the bonus point with the game edging towards its conclusion, an epic move involving Lowe and Gibson-Park combining beautifully ending with Baird’s attempted off-load going forward. Ireland closed the game out comfortably, missing out on the bonus point- perhaps they are human after all?Embed from Getty Images
Ireland’s victory sets up a slam showdown against a struggling England side, and it’s hard to bet against them. Ireland once again proved they have the answer to any problem; adversity is just another obstacle to blast out of the way. Farrell said his side were laughing at their injury chaos at halftime, a mark of his side’s character. This could be misconstrued as arrogance, but it’s merely a sign of the overwhelming belief Ireland have, able to roll with the punches and then land their own. Injuries have depleted them throughout the tournament, but such is the depth of their squad; seemingly, nothing can halt their momentum. As Scotland stuttered in the second half, Ireland were ruthless. Hesitate at your mercy against this Irish side.
For Scotland, another opportunity to beat the big boys went begging, unable to sustain the energy of their first-half display. However, they can take solace in the fact that they are closer to the world’s best than England, and if they had produced a full eighty-minute performance against Ireland and France, who knows what might have happened. The positives were plentiful, with their centre partnership once again excelling, while Pierre Schoemann put in another massive performance, making fifteen profitable carries in 53 minutes. For Scotland, they need to eradicate the small errors to move closer to the world’s best. Ireland have landed an important psychological blow ahead of their meeting in Paris. Scotland will look to dust themselves off and finish on a high note next week.