Three defensive calamities by Scotland gave Ireland all the ammunition they required to get back on track and inflict the first away win at Murrayfield in the Guinness 6 Nations for three years.
Ireland’s three tries all resulted from Scottish errors, perhaps with some degree of pressure inflicted from the reigning 6 Nations champions forcing the issue, but not forgivable at this level if the Scots really had serious designs on winning the championship.
Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls bagged Ireland’s tries, while Finn Russell’s interception provided Scotland’s try for centre Sam Johnson.
The Scots were in decent position at half-time trailing 12-10 after their first two errors, but they were squeezed out of the game in the second half, barely threatening in the Irish 22 and handing over what possession they got far too meekly.
Scotland began brightly and got the scoreboard moving first, but they helped Ireland into the game and put themselves needlessly under pressure with their first pair of awful defensive blunders.
A Huw Jones chip and some driving running by Josh Strauss got the Scots into position for Ireland to twice infringe in their own 22, and Laidlaw put the Scots in front with an easy penalty.
But Jones fumbled a restart from Jonny Sexton that looked to be going out on the full, and Ireland had their first foothold, although initially the Scots seemed to repulse them and won turnover possession.
The Murrayfield crowd howled for a penalty when Stuart Hogg chipped over the top and seemed to be taken late by Peter O’Mahony, but there was no whistle and Ireland counterattacked with Stockdale chipping up the left touchline.
Tommy Seymour sprinted back to cover but he and Sean Maitland got too close and the pass between the wings went high and astray, Conor Murray seizing on the gift for the try, which went unconverted.
That was Hogg’s last action, coming off with a shoulder he hurt in the incident with O’Mahony, and before the Scots could regroup Ireland were under the posts for their second score.
Stockdale came inside on a short pass from Sexton and the Scottish defence opened the gates for the wing, who sprinted away from Stuart McInally’s half-tackle to score a try converted by Murray, Sexton limping from the field injured.
Scotland badly needed some points but turned down a simple three for a quick tap by Russell and the Irish defence swarmed to force a turnover inside their own five metre line.
Kinghorn’s pace running the ball back gave Scotland a little lift but it needed opportunism from Russell to get them back in the game on the half-hour.
The stand-off spotted Ireland’s set move and intercepted a pass from Sexton’s replacement Joey Carbery before racing off for the Irish line. He was hailed down by the retreating Keith Earls but smartly popped a pass for Johnson to run in for the try, Laidlaw converting.
A smart kick from Russell put Ireland under pressure deep in their own 22 but despite repeated charges the Scots could not find a way through, and Seymour was snared at the line by Stockdale after Russell and Jones had fashioned some space.
The Scots lost possession on the next phase and Ireland scrambled in with a two point half-time lead from a frenetic first half.
The second half was more sedate stuff, and that was much to Ireland’s preference as they turned the screw on their hosts.
The Scots were penalised at the scrum, fumbled on possession and a Russell forward pass all gave Ireland easy outs from their territory but when the champions got into the Scots 22, they looked set to take the game away.
A brilliant McInally tackle and turnover and then a rip of a ball by the Edinburgh captain kept the Irish at bay, but again it was defensive frailty at key moments which gave Ireland a gift.
The Scots appeared to have pushed the Irish back in midfield and the ball went loose, but Carbery picked up and slipped through a gap as Allan dell and replacement Rob Harley missed a double tackle.
The young stand-off didn’t have the pace to go all the way but slung a long pass – which looked suspiciously forward – to the unmarked Earls, who scored the decisive try, converted by Carbery.
Scotland finally forced some possession in the Irish 22 but Ireland willingly surrendered a soft penalty, and Laidlaw brought Scotland back to six points behind.
But Ireland had a firm grip on the ball and the game and Carbery replied in kind to keep his team in control with 10 minutes remaining.
Scotland never got enough of the ball in the final ten minutes to even threaten getting back into the game and by the end their attempts to strike from deep were frantic and disorganised.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, S Johnson, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dell, S McInally, S Berghan; G Gilchrist, J Gray; R Wilson, J Ritchie, J Strauss.
Replacements: F Brown for McInally 64, J Bhatti for Dell 69, D Rae for Berghan 69, R Harley for Wilson 41, A Price for Laidlaw 69, P Horne for Johnson 64, B Kinghorn for Hogg 17.
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, C Farrell, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; J Ryan, Q Roux; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Conan.
Replacements: S Cronin for Best 72, D Kilcoyne for Healy 59, A Porter for Furlong 68, U Dillane for Roux 68, J van der Flier for O’Brien 64, J Cooney for Murray 77, J Carbery for Sexton 24, J Larmour for Stockdale 72.
Ref: R Poite (FFR)