Ireland close in on Grand Slam after bonus-point win over Scotland
Jacob Stockdale’s brace of tries helped them to victory in Dublin.
Record-breaking Ireland set up an all-out assault on the NatWest 6 Nations Grand Slam by claiming a 28-8 bonus-point win over Scotland in Dublin.
Jacob Stockdale bagged a brace to become the first Irishman to score six tries in a single campaign in Five and Six Nations history, as Ireland moved within one win of just a third-ever clean sweep.
Conor Murray and Sean Cronin also crossed to secure the bonus-point victory that could even see Joe Schmidt’s men claim the Six Nations title with a week to spare.
Unless England could claim a bonus-point win over France in Paris, Ireland would be crowned champions on Saturday night.
Schmdit’s class of 2018 also set a new Ireland record with an 11th consecutive victory, their winning run dating back to last term’s 13-9 win over England in Dublin.
Even if Ireland were to seal a third title in five years with a week to play, Schmidt’s side only have eyes for one prize now – a first Grand Slam in nine years.
Ireland face England at Twickenham on Saturday, March 17, where a St Patrick’s Day victory would add this group of players to the Grand Slam-winners of 1948 and 2009.
Fit-again Garry Ringrose excelled despite only featuring for an hour for Leinster since January, with Peter O’Mahony also to the fore.
Ireland’s sole problem could perhaps prove to be a fitness doubt for Cian Healy, who appeared to take a heavy blow to the head late in the first-half and was replaced just after 50 minutes.
Scotland’s rapier invention and offloading terrified an Ireland defence at sixes and sevens from the off. The visitors bossed the breakdown turnover battle as predicted too.
Their finishing let them down horribly in a fizzing first-half however, with a woeful final pass from Huw Jones denying Stuart Hogg a cakewalk home.
Ireland punted an eminently kickable penalty to the corner, only to come away with no reward for that early enterprise.
Scotland took the lead thanks to Greig Laidlaw’s penalty, but then that off-kilter finishing bit hard.
Two wayward Peter Horne passes cost Scotland dear, the first forcing Blair Kinghorn to dive to retrieve, when if accurate could have let the full debutant fly into the corner.
Then the Glasgow centre paid the ultimate price for forcing another wide ball, when Stockdale intercepted his loose effort to race in for the game’s first try.
Scotland came again, stretching Ireland often, only for Jones to bungle what ought to have been a facile score for Hogg.
Heeding their latest reprieve, Ireland stole a Scotland lineout to storm clear.
The excellent Ringrose’s tap-pass sent Rob Kearney hurtling into the Scotland 22, Murray edged closer and Bundee Aki was held up over the line.
A five-metre scrum, the last play of the half and Ireland itching for any kind of control and Ringrose not only set the platform, but also looped around Aki on the next phase, before sending Stockdale in for his and Ireland’s second score.
Johnny Sexton’s conversion handed Ireland the 14-3 half-time lead, and the hosts wasted little time extending that margin after the break.
Horne’s miserable afternoon continued, this time going off his feet trying to force a turnover in his own 22.
Ireland punted to the corner, drove the lineout and Murray sniped over the line. Sexton’s conversion pushed Ireland into a 21-3 advantage.
Scotland finally found their finishing feet however, Kinghorn dotting down acrobatically in the corner.
Ireland rallied and regained control, only for Sexton to drag a testing penalty just wide.
But when replacement hooker Cronin barged home from a driven lineout, Ireland had that all-important bonus-point, and the title tantalisingly within their grasp.
The Fields of Athenry warmly rang around a sun-drenched Aviva Stadium as the clocked ticked out, with Ireland players and fans alike already diverting eyes and minds elsewhere.