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Johnny Sexton's last-gasp penalty sees Ireland to edgy win over Scotland

Andy Farrell’s side gave up a 14-point lead in the final quarter but got out of jail.

Scotland 24

Ireland 27

IT ALL LOOKED like Ireland were heading for a comfortable final quarter. 14 points up, cruising at 24-10. It looked like a case of same old Scotland.

But Andy Farrell’s side managed to give up their big lead and the Scots leveled the game with five minutes left to go.

johnny-sexton-watches-as-scores-a-late-penalty Sexton watches his late penalty go through the posts. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ireland needed a get-out-of-jail play and it was 21-year-old replacement lock Ryan Baird and 35-year-old Johnny Sexton who helped to deliver it. Baird, only just on the pitch for James Ryan, blocked down an Ali Price kick and then smashed him in the tackle to allow Iain Henderson to win a breakdown turnover penalty.

From wide on the left off the tee, Sexton held his nerve to bisect the points and save the victory for Ireland.

It shouldn’t have been so dramatic. Tadhg Beirne’s try in the third quarter allowed Ireland to build on their 14-10 half-time lead and they looked to be coasting, particularly when Scotland lost out-half Finn Russell to a head injury in the 63rd minute. 

But Gregor Townsend’s Scots manufactured tries through Huw Jones and Hamish Watson to level the game before the late intervention by Baird, Henderson, and Sexton.

It all means Ireland have their second win of the 2021 Six Nations, a second consecutive victory after beating Italy last time out, but this was far from a convincing performance that tells us that Andy Farrell’s set-up is moving in the right direction. 

They did lots well to get into their 24-10 advantage, with Robbie Henshaw scoring their first-half try and will be pleased to have steadied the ship late on, but plenty of questions remain. 

With England coming to Dublin next weekend in Ireland’s final game of the championship, Farrell’s side will need to find another few gears. 

robbie-henshaw-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-keith-earls Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ireland had a fine start as their first attack of the game – featuring slick hands from Tadhg Beirne and an offload by James Lowe – yielded three points after Russell failed to roll away from a tackle under the Scottish posts. Sexton kicked that penalty and soon combined with Beirne for an excellent choke tackle turnover in midfield. 

James Ryan’s first lineout steal led to Ireland extending their lead inside the opening 10 minutes as Sexton launched a bomb on the back of it, the Scots knocking on as Hogg failed to deal with it. Ireland swung wide left as they regathered the ball and then, as they came right, Sexton launched a cross-field kick.

It was too far in front of Earls for him to gather on the full but the ball bounced high in the in-goal area as Hogg and Chris Harris converged with Earls, falling for Robbie Henshaw and the centre was rewarded for his chasing effort with a try.

Sexton couldn’t convert but Ireland led 8-0 but the advantage was swiftly reduced when Furlong played the ball on the ground after his tackle and Russell slotted three points. 

Ireland then strung together a sequence of errors – Ringrose knock-on, Ryan knock-on, Sexton missing touch – before making a big decision not to kick at goal just after another Ryan lineout steal in the 20th minute. Instead, they went into the left corner, where Scotland repelled their maul and then Hamish Watson turned them over when Jamison Gibson-Park sniped and got isolated.

finn-russell-scores-his-sides-first-try Russell crosses for the Scots. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

That encouraged the Scots, although their lineout was struggling badly, and they nudged in front just before the half-hour mark with a try that featured a comedy of Ireland errors.

Initially, Rob Herring’s underthrow at the lineout was picked off before CJ Stander won a breakdown turnover, only for Garry Ringrose to produce a poor kick immediately after the turnover, his wayward strike flying straight into Hogg. 

The Scotland captain chased forward onto the bobbling ball, hacked it up against his own head with his second touch, then nudged it behind Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan. The ball bounced for the chasing Russell and his nudge went up and over the hands of Lowe, who had been too slow to react to the danger. Russell cantered forward and finally regathered to dot down, converting himself.

Another Scotland lineout failure soon allowed Ireland to kick into their half, where Earls’ wonderful chase and tackle on Duhan van der Merwe allowed Beirne to win a big turnover penalty. Sexton was on target off the tee and Ireland led 11-10.

Earls won a turnover penalty himself just after Scotland regained their restart and then Ireland had a let-off as Russell missed with a penalty shot after Beirne was penalised for slotting in ahead of lineout catcher Ryan as they set a maul.

jonny-gray-and-james-ryan Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The Scots gave up one final chance to Ireland before the half-time whistle, Ringrose carrying well off a scrum and then Ali Price needlessly edging offside to allow Sexton to push Ireland out to 14-10 at the interval. 

The opening minutes of the second half were cagey with a sense that the game was truly in the balance, but Ireland held their nerve to move into an 11-point lead.

Soon after an Iain Henderson lineout steal, hooker Rob Herring won a breakdown turnover penalty and, again, Ireland opted against taking a shot at goal. Sexton kicked down the right, they won another penalty as the Scots jumped across the lineout, and back into the corner they went.

Though the maul was stopped again, Ireland’s forwards took to their direct carrying off Gibson-Park and it was Beirne who battered over with a latch from Cian Healy and Herring, referee Romain Poite showing flexibility to get his head into the mass of bodies and identify a grounding that wasn’t obvious on the TV camera angles.

Sexton converted and then added another three points in the 55th minute as the Scots’ discipline slipped again. With Ireland 24-10 ahead, Russell missed touch with a penalty at a time his team badly needed a platform in Irish territory.

johnny-sexton-celebrates-with-try-scorer-tadhg-beirne Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It looked like Ireland were heading for a comfortable final quarter but from the ensuing scrum, Scotland were given a free-kick and swept the ball wide to the right where Huw Jones, just off the bench, beat James Lowe far too easily, scorching outside him and then rounding last man Gibson-Park in behind for a sudden try from nothing.

Russell converted to bring the Scots back to within seven points but then had to depart for a head injury assessment as Hogg moved to out-half. 

Another Lowe error ended a promising Ireland attack in the 65th minute, the left wing passing forward and into touch despite being under little pressure. Scotland gained 60 metres up the left off the resulting scrum but Henshaw made a good tackle, driving van der Merwe into touch.

Rónan Kelleher’s throw into the lineout was crooked, so Scotland got another attacking chance and this time, van der Merwe went through Henshaw’s tackle attempt and the Scots won another penalty as replacement wing Jordan Larmour went off his feet. 

The Scots played off a five-metre lineout and won another penalty as Will Connors failed to roll away. Ireland lost James Ryan to a head injury and the Scots tapped their penalty this time and, again, the visitors infringed for a third time.

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huw-jones-scores-a-try Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Another tap followed and when Scotland went wide to the left, Connors somehow prevented van der Merwe from crossing in the corner. The Scots recycled and, finally, on 14th phase, Hamish Watson produced a powerful finish through three Irish tacklers for a TMO-confirmed try. 

Hogg took over kicking duties and nailed the conversion to level the game at 24-24.

 

Ireland needed those late dramatics to edge back in front.

Scotland scorers:

Tries: Finn Russell, Huw Jones, Hamish Watson

Conversions: Finn Russell [1 from 1], Stuart Hogg [2 from 2]

Penalties: Finn Russell [1 from 2]

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Beirne

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [1 from 2]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [5 from 5]

SCOTLAND: Stuart Hogg (captain); Sean Maitland, Chris Harris (Huw Jones ’55), Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell (HIA – Darcy Graham ’63), Ali Price (Scott Steele); Rory Sutherland (Jamie Bhatti), George Turner (David Cherry ’64), WP Nel (Simon Berghan ’55); Scott Cummings (Nick Haining ’66), Jonny Gray (Grant Gilchrist ’55); Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe (Jordan Larmour ’67); Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy (Dave Kilcoyne ’55), Rob Herring (Rónan Kelleher ’64), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’55); Iain Henderson, James Ryan (Ryan Baird ;71); Tadhg Beirne (Jack Conan ’64), Will Connors, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Conor Murray, Billy Burns.

Referee: Romain Poite [FFR].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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