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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 13 November, 2018
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Schmidt's Ireland show typically clinical edge from close-range against Scots

The close-range set-pieces were crucial for Ireland as they set up a Grand Slam shot.

IRELAND SHOWED A clinical edge in the key attacking moments of their 28-8 win against Scotland to set up a Grand Slam shot next weekend in London.

In contrast, Gregor Townsend’s side were unable to convert three excellent try-scoring opportunities in Dublin as they failed to back up their Calcutta Cup victory over England.

Three of Ireland’s four tries in this game came from close-range platforms, a scrum for Jacob Stockdale’s second, and lineouts for Conor Murray and Sean Cronin’s tries, while Stockdale intercepted a Peter Horne pass for the other Irish try.

Jacob Stockdale celebrates scoring a try Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The close-range set-piece has long been a strength of Ireland’s under Joe Schmidt and the power play that created Stockdale’s second score was typical.

After CJ Stander popped off the base of the scrum to Conor Murray, the scrum-half hit Garry Ringrose to make a direct carry under the posts on first phase, with Bundee Aki, Dan Leavy and CJ Stander resourcing the ruck.

James Ryan carried around the corner with tempo on second phase, with Peter O’Mahony offering up an excellent clearout before Devin Toner and Stander moved into guard positions over the ball.

Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton had flooded around the corner to lure the Scottish defence to the right again, but Murray switched rapidly back to the left on third phase and fired a screen pass behind Dan Leavy to Ringrose – back on his feet and in pre-planned position.

Ringrose ran a loop play with centre partner Bundee Aki – who had also worked back after resourcing the first ruck – with hooker Rory Best offering the decoy line to Aki’s outside shoulder and keeping Horne tight.

As Ringrose received the ball back from Aki, he was able to fire off an early pass to Stockdale waiting on the left wing in a brilliantly-manufacture one-on-one situation. The Ulsterman’s superb footwork did the rest, as he stepped back inside Blair Kinghorn and touched down with ease.

Three phases, 1 minute and 23 seconds, every player carrying out their role perfectly.

This was the very best of Schmidt’s Ireland and sent them into the half-time break with a comforting 14-3 lead after Johnny Sexton’s conversion.

Johnny Sexton celebrates as Conor Murray scores a try Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Murray and Cronin’s tries underlined the excellent work of Ireland’s pack throughout this win, with both of them coming on the end of strong maul efforts.

Murray’s close-range finishing has been important for Ireland under Schmidt and he benefited from Aki’s latch at the very last moment to provide additional support. Cronin’s role as an impact replacement was fulfilled as he bided his time before detaching and wriggling over for the bonus-point clinching score.

That Ireland’s first try came from defence will have been deeply pleasing for Andy Farrell, with Stockdale making a fine read to make an intercept for the second game in a row.

While Ireland gave up chances to the dangerous Scots, their defensive performance also included some outstanding passages. Ringrose was superb in the 13 channel, working hard to hunt across on the drift as Scotland attacked Ireland beyond the the 15-metre lines, as expected.

Ireland’s defence showed a greater awareness in their willingness to sit off at times on the outside edges, allowing interior defenders to work hard across the pitch – whereas against Wales, Ireland had attempted to bring linespeed even when they did not have enough bodies on their feet.

Still, Scotland will rue their decision-making in key moments in this contest. In the first half, Huw Jones’ superb chip and gather sent him haring into Ireland’s half and through Rob Kearney’s tackle.

Sexton did superbly to apply pressure to Jones’ passing skills by coming hard at him in the last moment, but the pass should have gone to the waiting Stuart Hogg earlier – even if the retreating Keith Earls might have had a chance to scrag the fullback.

In the second half, Hogg’s pass to Kinghorn on the right edge in the 49th minute flew over the wing’s head and into touch, while Horne butchered another opportunity after breaking the Irish defence in the 55th minute.

Blair Kinghorn scores their first try despite Garry Ringrose Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The inside centre opted for a very difficult long pass off his left hand to Kinghorn on the right touchline, but the more obvious option was a short pop to Jones on his right shoulder – Jones’s pace would surely have taken him clear.

Scotland did have a clever close-range set-piece try of their own from five metres out, a distinctive Townsend move that begins with three players directly behind the scrum before they break right and use two screen passes to give the right wing, Kinghorn in this case, enough space to dive over.

But it was Schmidt’s tactical acuity that impressed more in this game.

A first-half linebreak for Ringrose came off an intelligent scrum play that saw Ireland initially go left before Aki switched back under Sexton and passed to Ringrose over on the right of the scrum, where he had a clear one-on-one in space and used his superb step to scythe through.

Ireland kicked 35 times in this game – their highest total so far in the championship – and they got some vital success in the air.

Rob Kearney got off the ground to force an early knock-on from Finn Russell, while his capture of a relatively poor Sexton garryowen in the second half was pivotal in the build-up to Murray’s try.

Ireland did kick long on occasions and Hogg was extremely effective on the kick return, with his sublime first-half offload a real highlight.

The Scots were once again impressive at the breakdown, living up to their billing in this department.

Ireland’s ruck success was down to 96%, which won’t have pleased Schmidt, and they struggled to deal with the Scottish jackalers – led by John Barclay and Hamish Watson again.

Dan Leavy and Gordon Reid Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Scotland’s tacklers deserve real credit too, as they often intelligently pinned the Irish ball carriers on the ground after the tackle, preventing them from wriggling into the kind of ‘bodyball’ that Schmidt places a major emphasis on.

All of that said, Ireland did have big turnover penalties themselves – with the excellent Dan Leavy and the tireless Peter O’Mahony among the players to secure pressure-relieving possession.

The concession of nine penalties is something Schmidt will look at in this game, but overall Ireland will be satisfied to have emerged as the far more clinical team.

While they did struggle to break down the Scottish defence in between their own 10-metre line and the visitors’ 22-metre line with their phase play on occasion, the manner in which they produced eight clean linebreaks to Scotland’s four will have been pleasing.

Importantly, Ireland had an improved impact from their bench against the Scots. This has been another central focus of the Schmidt regime and after poor final quarters against Italy and Wales, the subs were back on form in Dublin.

Cronin scored the crucial fourth try, but Jordi Murphy was perhaps the pick of the replacements as he offered huge energy and fine footwork in the ball carry.

Jack McGrath showed his quality again after an impressive shift from Cian Healy at loosehead, while Andrew Porter’s emergence at this level continued and Iain Henderson made some strong carries.

That Ireland converted their close-range opportunities so clinically was perhaps most impressive of all.

As the Scots rue their inability to take chances, Ireland march on towards a Grand Slam opportunity in London.

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Murray Kinsella

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