Scotland’s dire record against Ireland continued with another error-strewn performance and a fifth successive defeat to their bogey team at Murrayfield.
The Scots’ faint hopes of a share of the Guinness Six Nations should have been extinguished long before Jonny Sexton landed a penalty wide out to finally clinch it with four minutes remaining.
Scotland had shown incredible fight coming back from a 14-point deficit with tries from Huw Jones and Hamish Watson in a thrilling final quarter.
This was despite first half try scorer Finn Russell going off with a head knock and playing their reserve scrum-half Scott Steele in the pack after injuries to both starting locks.
But the damage had been done long before then. Scotland’s lineout was a complete mess and Ireland caused all sorts of problems with their kicking game in the first hour.
Neither side really covered themselves in much glory on the day, but Ireland will surely wonder how it ever got to the stage that they needed Sexton’s final kick.
A sobering collapse since Twickenham triumph
For the Scots, after the high of victory at Twickenham it’s been a rapid decline to the ineptitude of the first hour here. They badly need a confidence-restoring romp over Italy next week before meeting France in Paris, but it could be without key casualties from this mess of a match.
Scotland sleep-walked through the first 10 minutes and found themselves eight points in arrears before they’d even got their hands on the ball.
Ireland went wide early and James Lowe nearly sprung Jonny Sexton. But although Ireland’s driving game at the line brought no rewards Russell didn’t roll away at a tackle and Sexton kicked Ireland into the lead.
James Ryan then made the first of a series of steals of the Scottish lineout to set up a high bomb that Stuart Hogg couldn’t gather. Ireland secured the ball and Sexton’s cross kick into the in-goal area wasn’t dealt with by either the captain or Duhan van der Merwe, falling for Robbie Henshaw to get the touch down.
Sexton’s conversion missed and that was a small mercy as the Scots finally put together something with the ball, Watson and Turner making good ground before Ireland infringed. Russell kicked the easy penalty for 3-8.
The stand-off lost the ball on a promising counterattack but it was the set-piece that was stifling the home side’s efforts. A penalty at the scrum and two more lost lineouts cost them chances in Irish territory.
Russell’s bizarre try
When Scotland’s try did come, it was bizarre. Ireland had turned over ball on their own 10-metre line but Hogg charged down Ringrose’s kick, hacked forward and couldn’t regather, but Russell got his boot to the ball into the 22.
James Lowe came across to gather but couldn’t hold it, and the ball fell into the hands of Russell for the easiest if strangest of tries. Repeated TMO checks showed Hogg hadn’t knocked on and the stand-off converted his own score.
A fourth lost Scottish lineout allowed Ireland to clear their lines and win a penalty as van der Merwe retreated. Sexton landed the three points to put Ireland back in front, while Russell couldn’t match him from long-range.
The veteran Irish 10 booted a third penalty right on half-time for a 14-10 advantage Ireland clearly deserved.
Poor third quarter gives Scots a mountain to climb
The third quarter was a disaster for Scotland, as they continued to lose the aerial game and surrendered a further ten points without firing a shot.
A fifth lost lineout and a penalty against Jamie Ritchie set up Ireland in the 22 seven minutes into the half and their forwards did their usual powerful and efficient work, eventually working it for Beirne to drive over, Sexton converting.
Ireland’s ball retention in phase play was in contrast to the Scots, and Ritchie was penalised again allowing Sexton to stretch the greens out to a two converted try lead.
Scotland’s unlikely comeback
Scotland’s response was winning a penalty but Russell kicked out in-goal. But Ireland went too early at the scrum and Price’s quick tap released Johnson on a great run. Swift hands allowed sub Jones to brush off a poor Lowe tackle and slide over for the try.
Hogg converted as Russell went off with a head knock, and then the Scot lost second row Scott Cummings, with only reserve scrum-half Scott Steele left to replace him.
But it was now the Scots showed proper fight, forcing their way into the Irish 22 and tapping two penalties before Watson eventually wriggled over for the third try, Hogg’s conversion tying the scores.
But Ali Price’s clearance from the restart was charged down by Irish replacement Ryan Baird, Scotland infringed trying to regather and Sexton’s fifth penalty from wide out won it for Ireland.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt); Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, WP Nel; Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray; Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Dave Cherry for Turner 64, Jamie Bhatti for Sutherland 66, Simon Berghan for Nel 55, Grant Gilchrist for Gray 54, Nick Haining for Ritchie 63, Scott Steele for Cummings 67, Huw Jones for Harris 54, Darcy Graham for Russell 63.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy , Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, James Ryan; Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher for Herring 64, David Kilcoyne for Healy 54, Andrew Porter for Furlong 54, Ryan Baird for Henderson 72, Jack Conan for Beirne 64.
Ref: Romain Poite (FFR)