Scotland’s recent revival was blunted by a powerful Irish performance in Dublin as the home side continued their nine-match unbeaten streak at hokme in the RBS Six Nations by a ten-point margin.
Three of Ireland’s four tries came when Scotland were reduced to 14 men by yellow cards but that was as a result of intense pressure exerted by the clincial home side, especially in the first half as they owned almost all the ball.
The Scots looked a little jaded, didn’t manage to exert their scrum dominance and couldn’t prevent the flow of quick Irish ball. The maul defence that was so prominent against France was also absent, three of Ireland’s four tries coming via that route.
Scotland never gave up, with three impressive tries of their own and Stuart Hogg’s blistering solo score possibly the pick of the championship, but they were always playing catch up and got a sharp reality check about the physical game required to compete at this level.
Ireland made an impressive statement in a first half where they monopolised possession and shrugged off Hogg’s brilliant solo try to take full command.
It’s hard to play international rugby without the ball and with the Irish retaining phase after phase efficiently and dominating the breakdown, there were precious few opportunities for the Scots to build a foundation.
Two early penalties by Jonny Sexton came as Scotland barely had a touch and John Barclay and WP Nel were penalised for contesting possession on the deck.
Laidlaw finally got them on the board, passing 500 points in tests in his 51st international with a penalty after 14 minutes, but Richie Gray gave away a penalty almost immediately and Sexton struck again for a 9-3 lead.
Ireland’s only real wayward play of the entire half was punished by Hogg on the 20th minute, when Conor Murray was too long with a box kick and gave the Scotland full back room to see his options.
He carried forward and spotted front rowers Rory Best and Mike Ross manning midfield, splitting them with a blistering turn of pace and then turning on the afterburners to evade the cover to the line on a thrilling 60 metre run.
Laidlaw converted but it was a brief lapse to Ireland’s dominance, and Scotland surrendered three successive penalties in their 22, Barclay seeing a yellow-card after he tried to turn over ball.
Ireland pushed again and after desperate defending by Scotland and a long discussion with the TMO, got the try to retake the lead when CJ Spander leapt over the top of a goal-line ruck.
Sexton converted and then the Lions stand-off’s probing kick on Ireland’s next attack brought a calamity for Scotland, Hogg and Seymour colliding going for the ball leaving Keith Earls a simple run in for the try unchallenged.
Sexton missed that conversion, and when Barclay returned the Scots finally won some turnover ball late in the half. Laidlaw booted a long penalty to get them back to a more manageable 21-13 at the break.
The Scots needed the first score of the second half to force a contest but Tommy Seymour knock on after a good attacking series and instead it was Ireland who drove home their advantage.
Heshaw made good ground down the right and Weir was forced to concede an attacking lineout, and once more the Irish maul caused havoc, Murray darting over after they pushed for the line, and Sexton adding the conversion.
Scotland did hit back quickly by kicking a penalty to the corner and although Visser and Taylor were held up, Gray strolled in under the posts as the defence were sucked in, Laidlaw converting.
Scotland had a foot hold in the game and the penalty count began to equalise, but the second yellow card for the Scots, after Alex Dunbar hauled Sexton out of a ruck, allowed Ireland the chance to put the game away.
Another attacking maul and man of the match Jamie Heaslip’s offload allowed Devin Toner to reach over, Sexton again converting.
Scotland never gave up and with Sexton sin binned as the Irish infringed continually towards the end, Dunbar marked his return by taking Taylor’s flicked pass for an unconverted score.
Ireland: S Zebo; A Trimble (F McFadden 78), J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray (E Reddan 79); J McGrath (C Healy 68), R Best (capt, R Strauss 68), M Ross (N White 60); D Ryan (U Dillane 70), D Toner; CJ Spander, T O’Donnell (R Ruddock 70), J Heaslip.
E Reddan, I Madigan, F McFadden.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, D Taylor, A Dunbar, T Visser (S Lamont 69); D Weir (P Horne 60), G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson (R Sutherland 67), R Ford (S McInally 51), WP Nel (M Low 68); R Gray, T Swinson (R Harley 63); J Barclay, J Hardie (J Strauss 53), R Wilson.
Ref: P Gauzere (IRFU)