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Earls double helps Ireland to end 2020 on a positive note with win over Scotland

Cian Healy also got on the scoresheet as Andy Farrell’s side claimed third spot in the Autumn Nations Cup.

Ireland 31

Scotland 16

IT HAS BEEN an up-and-down first year in charge of Ireland for Andy Farrell but it ended on a positive note as his side outmuscled Scotland in a three-try win that featured some encouraging signs.

keith-earls-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-robbie-henshaw-and-eric-osullivan Keith Earls scored two tries for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland secured third place in the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup in the process and will feel that they are next best behind England and France when it comes to the Six Nations, which kicks off in just nine weeks’ time.

Farrell’s men will play the English and French at home in that championship and will hope that the better passages of play in this victory against Scotland become regular features of their performances as they look to push forward. Having gone 9-3 behind in the first half, Ireland will be pleased with the composure they showed. 

On a dry but chilly afternoon in Dublin, they eventually had too much for the Scots, maintaining their strong home record in this fixture thanks in large part to two Keith Earls tries. 

The Munster man scored his 31st and 32nd Ireland tries to move into second on Ireland’s all-time list, two ahead of Tommy Bowe and now just 14 behind Brian O’Driscoll.

Loosehead prop Cian Healy also bagged a five-pointer for Farrell’s side before making way for 25-year-old Eric O’Sullivan to make his Test debut.

caelan-doris-is-tackled-by-jamie-ritchie-while-fending-off-jaco-van-der-walt Caelan Doris was man of the match. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony was superb for Ireland in the number seven shirt, hammering rucks, latching onto ball-carriers, running hard himself, and even providing the scoring pass for Earls’ second.

Meanwhile, Caelan Doris added to his growing reputation with another impressive display in which he eked out gainline progress even when it looked very difficult to do so.

The 22-year-old was named man of the match for his efforts and Lions boss Warren Gatland will certainly have noted Doris’ latest major influence for Ireland from the number eight shirt. 

Ireland lost captain Johnny Sexton to injury with 15 minutes remaining, meaning Leinster will have obvious concerns over the 35-year-old out-half’s fitness ahead of the start of their Champions Cup campaign against Montpellier next weekend, while James Ryan was also forced off late on. 

But for Ireland, it was a bright note on which to end a long autumn campaign, even if they will need to find several more gears to compete with England and France next year.

keith-earls-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-peter-omahony Ireland celebrate Keith Earls' second try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Farrell’s men made a decent start but Sexton was frustrated to miss to the left of the posts with a seventh-minute penalty and the Scots responded by taking charge of momentum. 

Debutant Scotland out-half Jaco van der Walt was wide with his own first shot at goal after Doris was pinged for going off his feet at the breakdown, but Healy was soon caught offside after a huge Chris Harris carry into Sexton and van der Walt gave the visitors the lead.

Ireland had a let-off when their lineout misfired inside their own 22 in the 16th minute as van der Walt subsequently knocked-on, but the Edinburgh man was on target for a 6-0 advantage when Zander Fagerson got one over on Healy in the scrum.

Sexton halved the deficit when Fraser Brown failed to wrap in a chop tackle on CJ Stander, although the visitors swiftly reopened a six-point advantage as referee Matt Carley adjudged Iain Henderson to have made a strip after a tackle had been completed. 

With fullback Stuart Hogg influential and the Scots winning lots of collisions, Ireland needed a big response and produced it with one of their best attacking passages of the Farrell era so far.

jaco-van-der-walt-kicks-a-penalty Jaco van der Walt nudged Scotland ahead in the first half. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

They swept the ball wide left on a lineout attack close to the halfway line, with wing Hugo Keenan offloading for Jacob Stockdale to make progress. When they shifted it back wide to the right, Peter O’Mahony boshed right through Ali Price, then Henderson deftly tipped on a pass for Doris to thunder into the 22.

A major chance beckoned out on the left but Scotland centre Duncan Taylor knocked down Bundee Aki’s pass and was duly sin-binned. Sexton opted to pop over the three points. 

Ireland were soon back in the Scottish 22, failing to score off a 10-metre scrum in midfield against the 14 men but then earning a penalty and backing themselves to go into the left corner.

Their maul was repelled but Carley indicated another penalty advantage and Murray passed right to Sexton in the shadow of the posts. The 35-year-old then produced a sumptuous and surprising kick back over the ruck to the left-hand side, where Henshaw got into the air against Darcy Graham, forcing the Scotland wing into a knock-on. The ball bobbled down onto the ground and Earls was quicker to react than Price, dotting down for a TMO-confirmed score.

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Sexton, who had strapping applied to his left thigh during the first half, couldn’t convert but Ireland could enjoy an 11-9 lead at the break, albeit having lost lock Iain Henderson to an apparent knee injury just before the half-time whistle.

keith-earls-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try Keith Earls celebrates his 31st try for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

They started the second half well too as Sexton’s low raking grubber down the let drew a knock-on from Hogg 10 metres out from his line, giving Ireland an ideal early platform to strike from.

Farrell’s men went direct with Aki and Stander carries before a big surge from the impressive Doris made crucial metres. The finishing touch was applied by Cian Healy picking and driving over the line, with O’Mahony making the crucial latch from inside and Rob Herring lending his weight from outside for the second try.

With Sexton converting, Ireland were 18-9 in front with 35 minutes still to go and with the Scottish discipline slipping, they were soon back down in the left corner with a five-metre lineout platform.

The maul went nowhere again but Stockdale made valuable metres with an aggressive midfield carry before Ireland swung back down the left and slick handling saw O’Mahony sending Earls over for his second try, which Sexton converted from out wide. 

Farrell would have been purring with delight in the coaches’ box as Ireland moved 16 points in front – as O’Mahony departed for a HIA – but the Scots responded far too easily as wing Duhan van der Merwe picked and sniped to the left of a ruck, breaking through Herring’s tackle attempt and rounding Stockdale to score. 

peter-omahony-wins-a-line-out-against-jonny-gray Peter O'Mahony was superb for Ireland. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Van der Walt’s conversion brought Townsend’s side back to 25-16.

Ireland were soon back down in Scottish territory as Stockdale’s clever kick bounced up for Earls to regather but Fraser Brown was able to earn a turnover penalty as Healy struggled to clear him away following a carry from Josh van der Flier – on for O’Mahony.

The Munster captain’s return after 10 minutes getting his head injury assessment was welcome after a shaky patch from Ireland.

As O’Mahony returned, Scotland cried foul in claiming an Irish player had gouged Brown in a maul but a TMO review showed nothing of the kind. But Ireland did soon lose skipper Sexton to that left leg injury that had affected him in the first half, with his Leinster team-mate Ross Byrne on at out-half.

Byrne was swiftly pressed into action off the tee, tapping over three points from straight in front after another Irish attack in Scotland’s 22. 

O’Mahony had a toe in touch down the right in the 75th minute when it looked like he had finished another nice Ireland score, much to his frustration, but they were playing penalty advantage and Byrne added three more points to put the icing on the cake.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Keith Earls [2], Cian Healy

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [2 from 3]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [2 from 3], Ross Byrne [2 from 2]

Scotland scorers:

Tries: Duhan van der Merwe

Conversions: Jaco van der Walt [1 from 1]

Penalties: Jaco van der Walt [3 from 4]

IRELAND: Jacob Stockdale; Hugo Keenan, Robbie Henshaw (Chris Farrell ’77), Bundee Aki, Keith Earls; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne ’65), Conor Murray (Jamison Gibson-Park ’77); Cian Healy (Eric O’Sullivan ’66), Rob Herring (Ronan Kelleher ’66), Andrew Porter (John Ryan ’75); Iain Henderson (Quinn Roux ’39), James Ryan (Caelan Doris ’75); CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony (HIA – Josh Van der Flier ’52 to ’62), Caelan Doris (Josh Van der Flier ’66). 

SCOTLAND: Stuart Hogg; Darcy Graham (Sean Maitland ’57), Chris Harris, Duncan Taylor (yellow card ’31) (blood bin – Huw Jones ’45 to ’52, permanent ’64), Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco Van der Walt, Ali Price (Sam Hidalgo-Clyne ’75); Rory Sutherland (Oli Kebble), Fraser Brown (George Turner), Zander Fagerson (Willem Nel); Scott Cummings (Sam Skinner ’64), Jonny Gray; Blade Thomson, Jamie Ritchie (Blair Cowan ’68), Matt Fagerson. 

Referee: Matt Carley [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium

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