‘That is brilliant’ – Stockdale opens commanding Ireland lead
Six Nations Championship
Scotland (10) 13
Try: Johnson Con: Laidlaw Pens: Laidlaw 2
Ireland (12) 22
Tries: Murray, Stockdale, Earls Cons: Murray, Carbery Pen: Carbery

Ireland recovered from opening-day defeat by England to beat Scotland in a Six Nations thriller at Murrayfield.

The Grand Slam champions were behind early on to a Greig Laidlaw penalty but tries from Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale put the visitors ahead.

Sam Johnson went over for the hosts to narrow the gap to two points at the break as the Scots piled on pressure.

But Keith Earls scored after the hosts’ defence was exploited just short of the hour to inspire the Irish to victory.

Gregor Townsend’s Scotland saw plenty of the ball and appeared to deal well with losing full-back Stuart Hogg to injury midway through the first half.

But they could not build on their victory over Italy in round one, with Joey Carbery, a blood replacement for Johnny Sexton, turning in an outstanding performance for Joe Schmidt’s side as their hosts could not reel them in late on.

‘It was endlessly thunderous’

We knew it was going to be attritional – and it was. We hoped it was going to an epic – and it was that, too. It was endlessly thunderous and endlessly fascinating. Scotland looking to put themselves in the hunt for the Six Nations championship for the first time against Ireland who were staying alive in defence of their title. Magnificent.

When Laidlaw put over a penalty to open the scoring it was the least the Scots deserved for an explosive beginning. When Ireland responded with a try from Murray it was a score that came against the run of play.

And it was hellish for the home side, a self-inflicted wound after Stockdale’s kick ahead sparked bizarre confusion between Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland. Seymour gathered it and threw a pass to his fellow wing that was too high and too ugly. Maitland got a hand to it but no more. When it went loose Murray pounced and scored.

Sexton missed a simple conversion, the first illustration, perhaps, that the physical pounding he’d been taking was having an impact. Sexton did not look himself out there.

Before the first quarter was over, Ireland had two huge moments. Firstly Hogg, a menace in the early exchanges, went off injured. Blair Kinghorn, the hat-trick hero of last week, came on for him. Next, they scored their second try.

Peter O’Mahony and Sexton worked a scissors play that put Stockdale away and the young wing had no bother executing it from there. Murray added the conversion and Ireland had a handsome 12-3 lead.

Scotland pretty much owned it for the rest of the half. Finn Russell orchestrated things wonderfully, his range of passing beautiful, his tactical kicking pin-sharp. He was a joy. In the physicality stakes, Scotland had some hardy boys to go toe-to-toe with Ireland’s big men.

The entire home pack got on top of their opposite numbers for a spell and Scotland had chances. Josh Strauss, Jamie Ritchie and their switched-on brothers were immense. Sexton, battered and bruised, left the field after 24 minutes and soon the Scots were back in it.

Again, it was Russell who sparked it. He was still a mile from the Irish posts when intercepting Carbery and haring down field. For a second it looked like he might go all the way but Earls covered brilliantly and hauled him down. Russell stayed in the moment while on the floor, picking out Johnson’s clever run. Johnson went over and Laidlaw converted and the gap reduced to two.

‘Scotland had chances – and didn’t take them’

Scotland had more chances – and didn’t take them. More than 70% of the first half was played down Ireland’s end of the pitch and the Scots couldn’t bust the Irish defence. Just before the end of the half they were camped on Ireland’s five-metre line for minutes on end, going through 25 phases and stretching Ireland almost to breaking point, but not quite.

You wondered then how significant that moment might prove at the end – and wondered once again after Ireland got their third try just before the hour. Rob Kearney provided the first thrust, then Carbery made amends for his earlier blunder by going through Allan Dell and Rob Harley and screamed away before flinging the try-making pass to Earls.

Carbery’s conversion pushed the lead out to nine, Laidlaw’s penalty brought it back to six but a penalty of his own from the Irish fly-half made it nine again.

The ferocity was uninterrupted, the tackle count on both sides stratospheric. Even with 10 minutes left to play, Scotland had made and astonishing 225 tackles and Ireland had 149. Dell, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Ritchie and Strauss were in the mid-to-high 20s. Ireland’s individual numbers weren’t as eye-popping, but they were made to work like demons for everything they got.

They closed out the win, Scotland’s pursuit of a losing bonus point crashing when they had an attacking line-out stolen from them, their third error out of touch. Ireland’s defensive intensity snuffed them out. Joe Schmidt will be a relieved man. His counterpart, Gregor Townsend, will be deeply frustrated at missed chance and a missed opportunity.


Source link