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Ireland boss Joe Schmidt delighted to finish on a high with Scotland win

Ireland 35 - Scotland 25

By Jonathan Bradley

With the Six Nations having drawn to a close, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was pleased to see his players ensure that a disappointing championship ended on a positive note.

Just as they did one year ago - although there wasn't nearly as much on the line in this less-than-super Saturday - his side finished off their campaign with a four-try victory over Scotland, this time a 35-25 triumph that, when coupled with France's defeat to England later in the day, was good enough to secure third place in the table.

"I'm always happy to finish on a winning note," said the Irish coach. "We knew how good Scotland were going to be and how combative they were going to be and they didn't disappoint us.

"Full credit to the players, I don't think they disappointed themselves. They went out and controlled long periods of the game to build pressure and to build a score."

The hosts were good value for their win, Scotland's two best spells of the game quickly undone by yellow cards, and after demolishing Italy seven days prior, it was another performance that featured an increased cutting edge.

Early dominance yielded three penalties from the boot of Jonathan Sexton, with Greig Laidlaw offering one in return, but when the first try arrived on the 20 minute mark, it was provided by Vern Cotter's men.

Full-back Stuart Hogg, superb throughout this tournament, took a wayward kick at pace, quickly identified that Ireland's midfield defence was being provided by skipper Rory Best and Mike Ross, and burst through the mis-match for a fine individual score.

Just like that, Scotland were in front but they surrendered the lead almost as quickly. With flanker John Barclay binned for persistent infringement on the deck, Ireland crossed twice during the 10-minute advantage.

First CJ Stander went up and over a ruck to touch down before Keith Earls took advantage of an error to mark his 50th cap with a score.

A third try of the championship from Conor Murray eight minutes after the turn seemed sure to settle matters but Richie Gray exploited a second defensive misread from Ireland to draw Scotland within eight points.

Just as the visitors were enjoying a spell of ascendency, Alex Dunbar was yellow carded for dangerous play on Sexton - who himself ended the day in the bin - and their threat petered out.

A testy closing spell ensued, featuring the first Test try of Devin Toner's career and a response from Dunbar, and afterwards Schmidt was keen to look forward.

Despite team selections often seen as conservative, Ireland blooded five new caps throughout the championship, something the Kiwi believes will only add to the squad's depth moving forward.

"I think it was five new caps and some of them were making their PRO12 debuts about this time last year," he said. "Guys like Ultan Dillane and Josh van der Flier have had very little pro rugby let alone Test experience but they are so keen to learn.

"Stu McCloskey is learning fast and trying to grow his game to get more than just a carrying game but a game where he can make the best offload and pass at width.

"Defending when up against the likes of Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph and Mike Brown (against England) that was a hell of a challenge as well so those new guys have all come in and made progress.

"CJ has made an impact in every game and Peter (O'Mahony) is probably looking at that and going, 'well I better roll my sleeves up'.

"I hope that's part of the challenge and Donnacha Ryan is going well and Ultan Dillane too so Iain Henderson is probably looking at the No.6 or lock position and saying, 'I'd better roll my sleeves up and get working' and especially with Sean O'Brien and Tommy Bowe coming back.

"There are lots of guys and even this week and it was great to have Chris Henry back in."

Such depth will be required for the rest of 2016 - Ireland face a three-Test tour to South Africa this summer and a pair of meetings with the All Blacks in the autumn with only the hosting of Canada in between, when a single victory in any of their next five games against Tier 1 opposition would be a hitherto unmatched feat- either a first win on South African soil or maiden victory over New Zealand.

"You're looking for pieces you think will fit the jigsaw but we're going to get a few pieces back and hopefully that'll give us more flexibility," said Schmidt of the meetings with the Springboks.

"The players that do travel to South Africa, we're unlikely to go from Test to Test without picking up a knock or showing signs of attrition."

IRELAND: S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), M Ross; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, T O'Donnell, J Heaslip.

Replacements: R Strauss (for Best, 68), C Healy (for McGrath, 68), N White (for Ross, 61), U Dillane (for Ryan, 70), R Ruddock (for O'Donnell, 70), E Reddan (for Murray, 79), I Madigan, F McFadden (for Trimble, 79).

SCOTLAND: S Hogg; T Seymour, D Taylor, A Dunbar, T Visser; D Weir, Greig Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, WP Nel; R Gray, Tim Swinson; J Barclay, J Hardie, R Wilson.

Replacements: S McInally (for Ford, 51), R Sutherland (for Dickinson, 67), M Low (for Nel, 68), R Harley (for Swinson, 63), J Strauss (for Hardie, 53) H Pyrgos, P Horne (D Weir, 63), S Lamont (for Visser, 69)

Match rating: 7/10

Man of the match: Jamie Heaslip

Referee: Pascal Gauzere

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