Scrappy Ireland do enough to get over the line against Scotland to get off the mark in Six Nations
Back to winning ways, but still nowhere near their best; Ireland just about deserved this win at Murrayfield.
After the week that was, they’ll take it and run knowing they have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks.
The result was all that mattered, but getting it with Joey Carbery running the show for almost an hour was an added bonus.
Johnny Sexton was forced off mid-way after receiving treatment on three injuries through the first-half and, while his replacement threw an interception that led to a Scottish try, he was instrumental in managing the second-half.
Between them, the two coaches had made nine changes to their teams and the result was a scrappy, error-strewn, tense affair.
Things will be very different in Yokohama in September when these sides kick off their World Cup campaign against each other, but Ireland will be delighted to have kept the Scots at arm’s length.
The home side caused the men in green problems, but Ireland’s defence held firm.
Their scrum was excellent, while their lineout functioned brilliantly despite the loss of Devin Toner and, while their attack was stodgy, it functioned just enough for them to get the three tries they needed.
Scotland will be disappointed with their own inaccuracy and will reflect on this as a major lost opportunity.
But Ireland can move on to Italy in round three knowing they have massive room to improve.
After their disastrous opening against England last week, Joe Schmidt’s team again started slowly and found themselves behind after six minutes as Bundee Aki played the ball in a ruck and Greig Laidlaw struck an easy penalty over.
Having started the game on the defensive, they got an opportunity to attack when Huw Jones knocked on the kick-off on the edge of his ’22.
All they could muster was 10 poor phases that ended with a mix-up between Johnny Sexton and Jacob Stockdale.
However they were gifted a try seconds later when Stockdale chipped ahead, Tommy Seymour who, under pressure from Chris Farrell, shipped a terrible pass to Sean Maitland and Conor Murray pounced to run in the score.
After receiving treatment, Sexton then shanked his conversion wide.
If Ireland were playing with hesitancy, Scotland’s accuracy was off and they suffered a real blow when Stuart Hogg was forced off injured midway through the first-half.
And the visiting side extended their lead with a cleverly worked old favourite of Joe Schmidt. Peter O’Mahony linked with Sexton who drew Allan Dell and put Stockdale through a gap by the ruck and the ace finisher did what he did best.
With the out-half crumpled after being smashed late by Dell, Murray converted and Sexton carried on.
Ireland failed to deal with the kick-off and then O’Mahony gave away a penalty on their own 5m line, but Finn Russell tapped it quickly and a knock-on ruined the moment.
Having celebrated the mistake, the Irish forwards doubled-down by winninga scrum penalty but their momentum was stymied when Cian Healy knocked on.
After 23 minutes in the wars, Sexton was replaced by Joey Carbery and it was the 22-year-old’s error that allowed Scotland back into it.
The out-half telegraphed his pass to Rory Best just enough for Finn Russell to rush up and intercept and although Keith Earls hunted the Racing 92 play-maker down, he had the presence of mind to pip the ball up to Simon Johnson and Laidlaw narrowed the gap to two points with the conversion.
A poor Earls clearance kick handed the Scots another chance to attack and the winger had to be alert to the danger to scramble the ball into touch when Jones’ chip-ahead pin-balled off Rob Kearney and Carbery.
That gave Scotland a 5m lineout, but Peter O’Mahony got up and slapped the ball back and Rory Best put it down.
Take two, this time a 5m scrum for the home side but Ireland withstood everything they threw at them through 25 phases with Stockdale denying Tommy Seymour out wide and Cian Healy strong a number of times before Simon Berghan spilled it and O’Brien pounced.
That was that for the first-half and the second-half began with a couple of scrappy minutes before Jonny Gray gave away a silly penalty and Carbery moved Ireland into position.
Rob Harley’s high tackle on O’Brien handed Ireland a chance to push the envelope and Carbery found Kearney wide, but the full-back’s off-load to Farrell didn’t stick.
Instead, they went to the corner and this time it was Scotland’s turn for a big defensive set as they repelled the men in green through 12 phases before Murray threw a pass to nobody and Earls was penalised for holding on on the deck under pressure.
Superb work from O’Brien on the deck forced another Scottish error and Ireland’s scrum forced another penalty.
Again, Carbery kicked them into position but again the Irish attack was poor and Stuart McInally ripped the ball from Tadhg Furlong’s grasp.
Yet they kept playing and after Kearney had made a surge up the left, Carbery made the most of a loose pass from O’Brien to slip through Dell and Harley’s attempted tackle and race clear. Knowing he wouldn’t make it himself, the Munster man spotted Earls and floated a beautiful left-handed pass for his winger to score and then nailed the conversion.
Aki handed Laidlaw the chance to make it a six-point game by playing the ball after he’d been warned by Poite not to, but Ireland finally got their possession game going with a long series on the edge of the Scottish ’22 that resulted in a penalty when Josh Strauss went off his feet.
Even with the bonus point on the table, Best pointed to the sticks and Carbery extended his team’s lead.
And with five minutes remaining they got their chance to score a fourth try when Jamie Ritchie came in from the side as Ultan Dillane got over the ball.
But Aki’s knock-on meant the opportunity came and went. They got one more chance at the death from a scrum just inside the Scottish half, but they couldn't make it count.
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Belfast Telegraph Digital