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Scotland 24-27 Ireland

Overcoming a sluggish start, lineout woes and inaccuracy off the kicking tee, Scotland had recovered from a 14-point deficit to display Herculean resolve to claw their way level with five minutes remaining at BT Murrayfield this afternoon.

Could the pain of narrow defeat that they had experienced last time out in the GUINNESS Six Nations Championship against Wales be exorcised?

Alas not, as Ireland, in spite of finishing on the wrong end of a 3-2 try count, benefited from a 17-point haul from captain Johnny Sexton and finishing on the right end of the referee’s penalty count.

Sexton’s 77th minute penalty was the difference between the teams. He did miss a first-half conversion, while his opposite number Finn Russell erred from a first half penalty and also mis-fired a penalty touchfinder in the second-half.

So, Scotland, in spite of tries from Russell, Huw Jones and Hamish Watson, now look to the BT Murrayfield match against Italy in six days’ time to return to winning ways.

Scotland, after a month of enforced international match inactivity as a result of the Covid positive tests in the French camp last month, were seeking to post their first victory over Ireland in six attempts.

Their opponents were going into this afternoon’s contest with successive defeats against Wales and France in their opening two matches of the 2021 Championship.

Ireland were led out by No 8 C J Stander on the occasion of his 50th cap and it was the visitors who kicked off towards the North Stand.

Scott Cummings gathered, and Russell cleared but It was Ireland who went through multiple phases from the first lineout after James Lowe had all but detonated Jonny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw on the West Stand touchline.

Alarm bells were ringing as Cian Healy evaded one close-range tackle, but Scotland’s defence held firm – just – though they did concede a penalty which Sexton goaled (0-3, 4mins).

Ireland attacked left off the first scrum, but Sean Maitland was strong in the tackle.

It had been a lethargic start from the hosts and when Jonny Gray was beaten to ball on the touchline, Ireland went through a couple of phases before Sexton hoisted a Garryowen.

Stuart Hogg had Henshaw for company and the ball appeared to go forward from the Scotland full-back to Russell in an offside position.

With advantage being played, Stander was halted on the right, but Sexton went aerial and cross-field with Keith Earls his target.

The winger did enough to deflect the ball back in Scotland’s in-goal – in spite of the attentions of both Hogg and Chris Harris – for the fast following-up Henshaw to dot down. Sexton’s conversion attempt struck the right-hand upright and stayed out. (0-8, 8 mins).

In Scotland’s response, Watson carried vigorously on the left and George Turner twice thundered on. From his second thrust, Ireland were penalised and Russell goaled (3-8, 11 mins).

From an Irish knock-on, Hogg threw a long miss-pass to Russell, but the inside pass went awry, with the hint of an opening for Ali Price.

A lineout against the throw – secured by James Ryan – teed up another Irish attack which earned the visitors a penalty. Sexton opted for the touchline and the Irish pack rumbled. Jamison Gibson Park sniped from close-range, but ever courageous Watson was equal to the task and won a penalty as Ireland did not release in the tackle.

Into the second quarter and a tackle from Hogg on Henshaw and tigerish arrival at the breakdown from Scotland set up a turnover and Harris deserved credit for his hard-working pursuit of Russell’ s mighty boot into the Irish 22.

Scotland had weathered the early Irish onslaught and with Maitland continuing to look animated on the right, they soon took the lead for the first time, though not before we had seen a virtuoso side-step from Irish tight-head Tadhg Furlong.

Scott Cummings had lost the ball in contact, Earls released to Garry Ringrose, but his kick was charged down by Hogg. The ball ballooned off Hogg’s chest and then with a right-foot dab, all the better in that it seemed unintentional, it diverted via a circuitous route towards the posts, Russell got another boot to ball, Lowe couldn’t gather, and the stand-off crossed for his seventh try for his country, duly confirmed by the TMO. Russell added the conversion for good measure (10-8, 28 mins).

Frustratingly, Sexton landed a 34th minute penalty to restore the lead for the visitors (10-11, 34 mins). Irish lineout obstruction gave Russell the chance to hit back but he pushed his effort to the right of the posts.

As half-time loomed, Russell launched a lovely crosskick, but Harris could not gather in the contest with Earls. From the knock-on, Ireland attacked, and Price gave away the softest of offside penalties. Sexton goaled (10-14, 40 mins).

Half-time: Scotland 10 Ireland 14.

Scotland’s lineout, which had been so clean against England at Twickenham, was creaking a bit.

A penalty won on retreat was just what the hosts needed but the concession of a breakdown penalty and then another offence at the subsequent lineout saw Ireland bombard the Scotland line for flanker Tadhg Beirne to breenge over for the try. Sexton converted (10-21, 49 mins).

Scotland needed to secure some possession but a free kick for delaying the throw at a lineout unleashed another wave of Irish attacks, ended by Monsieur Poite awarding another penalty, which Sexton goaled (10-24, 52 mins).

Scotland’s error count worsened as Russell – from the ten-metre line – was over ambitious with his penalty to the corner.

Scotland needed some inspiration and it materialised from a tap penalty from Price, break from Sam Johnson, quick ball, Grant Gilchrist as link and a blistering injection of pace from Hogg.

Huw Jones still had much to do but he made it look bewilderingly simple, as he stormed in for his 11th try for Scotland. Hogg converted (17-24, 60 mins).

Scotland emptied their bench and also had to contend with an HIA for Russell.

Duhan Van Der Merwe scythed into the Irish 22 off his wing as Scotland searched for a Grandstand finish, during which Ireland conceded three penalties inside their 22 in rapid succession. Words of admonition from the referee but no further action taken . . .

Scotland opted for old-school tap penalties and ultimately Watson, twisting and turning like a dervish, managed to ground the ball for his fifth try for Scotland, another score that required TMO verification. Hogg’s conversion tied the scores (24-24, 74 mins).

The drama had one final painful twist. Ireland sub Ryan Baird charged down Price’s attempted clearance and the scrum-half was then pinged for holding on in the tackle. From wide on the left Sexton kicked a fine penalty, his fifth of the game (24-27, 77 mins) and Ireland’s recent dominance of the fixture continued. It was no consolation that it was only just.

Full time: Scotland 24 Ireland 27

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs) CAPTAIN; Sean Maitland (Saracens), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Duhan Van Der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson (both Edinburgh Rugby), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).

Subs: Dave Cherry (Edinburgh Rugby) for Turner (63mins),Jamie Bhatti (Bath Rugby) for Sutherland (65 mins) , Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) for Nel (54 mins), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) for Gray (54 mins), Nick Haining (Edinburgh Rugby) for Ritchie (62 mins)., Scott Steele (Harlequins) for Cummings (66 mins), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) for Harris (54 mins), Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby) for Russell (62 mins).

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton CAPTAIN, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, CJ Stander.

Subs: Ronan Kelleher for Herring (63 mins), Dave Kilcoyne for Healy (54 mins), Andrew Porter for Furlong (54 mins), Ryan Baird for Ryan (70 mins), Jack Conan for Beirne (63 mins), Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Jordan Larmour for Low (67 mins).

Referee: Romain Poite (France). Assistant referees: Mathieu Reynal (France) and Andrea Piardi (Italy). TMO: Alexandre Ruiz (France).

GUINNESS Player of the Match: Tadhg Beirne (Ireland).

live commentary 3:00 PM Sunday 14 Mar 2021

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