Scotland did their Jekyll and Hyde impression again in the NatWest 6 Nations with an error-riddled performance that allowed Ireland an easy ride to the championship title.
Sean Cronin’s try with ten minutes left confirmed the bonus point win that leaves the Irish all but confirmed as the 2018 6 Nations champions, with a Grand Slam match to come at Twickenham next week, but they were aided and abetted by some gifts by the Scots, whose execution was nowhere near on a par with the Calcutta Cup win against England.
It was again a stark contrast between Scotland’s form at Murrayfield and on their travels, although it was a much better performance than the debacle in Cardiff, ultimately Ireland won with the kind of comfort that will frustrate the Scottish coaching team and their supporters.
Other than a lineout that struggled all day, the glaring Scottish errors weren’t even really the result of pressure from the Irish. Three glaring try-scoring opportunities were butchered while an interception try gave the hosts the platform they barely deserved after a nervy first 20 minutes full of their own mistakes.
However once in front the relentless nature of the Irish gameplan took control, and the Scots found it increasingly difficult to get any meaningful attacking possession. Blair Kinghorn’s debut try in the second half was all they got despite opening up the Irish on plenty occasions.
The twenty-point final margin of victory might not suggest it, but just two misplaced passes prevented Scotland from holding a position of command going into half-time. Instead a late sucker punch put Ireland in complete control.
The Scots had defended tenaciously to repel the early Irish onslaught, forcing turnovers as the home side pressed in the 22 and even turned down an early kick at goal.
The Scots broke out with the help of an Irish fumble and when Huw Jones hacked on, Keith Earls was caught holding on in his own 22, Greig Laidlaw kicking the penalty.
The Scots nearly got through to build on their lead after a couple of sharp off-loads from Blair Kinghorn and Ryan Wilson, but John Barclay’s scrambling tackle was needed when Conor Murray supported Jonny Sexton’s chip and chase and looked to have burst clear.
Just as Scotland seemed to be building a platform with some sharp running came their first key error, Pete Horne’s floated pass trying to take advantage of a two-on-one intercepted near halfway by Jacob Stockdale who motored away for a gift try under the posts.
The Scots had a huge opportunity to make an immediate reply when they counterattacked off some poor Irish kicking, Huw Jones chipping over the defence and regathering but when he finally spotted Stuart Hogg in glorious isolation inside the Irish 22 on his right the pass was wild and a golden chance to retake the lead was gone.
Scotland kept forcing the play but found the Irish defence solid, and just before the break a poor lineout offered Ireland another chance.
A flick from Gary Ringrose opened up the Scots on the wide left and although Hamish Watson got back to hold up Murray over the line, the Irish went again from the scrum and worked space for Stockdale to cut inside Kinghorn and score his second, Sexton converting.
Scotland needed the first score of the second half but were corralled in their own 22, penalised, and when Sexton kicked to the corner Murray spun off a maul and squeezed over for his side’s third try, Sexton converting.
Scotland finally got some ball and territory but Hogg’s wild pass to Kinghorn seemed like another golden chance missed, only for a penalty advantage to give them another shot.
This time Russell, Hogg and Maitland combined well to put the debutant in at the corner, Laidlaw hitting the crossbar with his conversion.
The Scots had a foothold but another glaring chance was missed when Horne cut through on halfway but didn’t spot Jones racing into a gap on his shoulder, throwing a wild pass that Kinghorn couldn’t hold.
Ireland piled on the pressure through their relentless phase play and Sexton missed a penalty when they went for the posts, but the next time the Lions stand-off kicked ot the corner and replacement hooker Sean Cronin dived over from the lineout drive for the bonus point try.
Scotland tried to respond with some endeavour in the final minutes but were unable to pierce the Irish defence.
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong, J Ryan, D Toner; P O’Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander.
Replacements: S Cronin for Best 66, J McGrath for Healy 51, A Porter for Furlong 62, I Henderson for Toner 55, J Murphy for O’Mahony 55, K Marmion for Murray 71, J Carbery for Sexton 73, J Larmour for Kearney 75.
Scotland: S Hogg; B Kinghorn, H Jones, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; G Reid, S McInally, S Berghan; G Gilchrist, J Gray; J Barclay (capt), H Watson, R Wilson.
Replacements: F Brown for McInally 60, J Bhatti for Reid 55, WP Nel for Berghan 55, T Swinson for Gray 71, D Denton for Wilson 18, A Price for Laidlaw 67, N Grigg for Horne 73, L Jones.
Ref: W Barnes (RFU)