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Brilliant O'Brien and more talking points from Ireland's big win in Scotland

Fitter leaders, the backline thriving, England’s task and attack on top.

Murray Kinsella reports from Murrayfield

JOE SCHMIDT’S IRELAND were comprehensive 40-10 winners over Scotland at Murrayfield in their final game of the 2015 Six Nations.

Read our full match report here.

Over to England

Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien wrap up Dougie Fife Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The perfectionist Joe Schmidt will probably reflect on opportunities missed, but Ireland delivered a superb performance in Edinburgh to give themselves every chance of retaining their Six Nations crown.

Wales’ free-scoring win against a pathetic Italy earlier in the day had set a lofty benchmark to hit, but Ireland did so in impressive fashion. The start Schmidt’s side were missing in Cardiff last time out arrived as Paul O’Connell drove over in the opening minutes.

Johnny Sexton and Ian Madigan both missed kicks from the tee in the second half, though one senses that England have a hugely demanding task ahead of them as they target a 26-point win over the French.

How important will Jamie Heaslip’s try-saving tackle on Stuart Hogg prove? This day has been full of thrills already, so let’s not count any chickens just yet.

Attack on top

Jared Payne celebrates his try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Much was made of Ireland’s perceived limits in attack in the build-up to this game, but Joe Schmidt’s men ran with absolute relish and great effectiveness in ideal conditions at Murrayfield.

The loop play in the build-up to O’Connell’s opening try was trademark Schmidt and Sexton, while the accuracy of some of the passing as Ireland attacked down Dougie Fife’s wing was superb.

There were missed offload attempts among the strong moments, but the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Luke Fitzgerald thrived among the increased freedom to run and pass, while Tommy Bowe was a constant threat wide on the right.

It’s certainly encouraging to see that Ireland can play with a different style as the World Cup looms.

Fitter leaders

Sean O'Brien scores their second try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sean O’Brien at his very fittest is a world-class openside and all the evidence suggests the Tullow Tank is on his way back to peak physical condition. He was a wrecking ball in Edinburgh this afternoon.

His carrying repeatedly saw Ireland over the gainline, something that had been lacking in recent times, while his impact in the defensive hit was fierce too. O’Brien’s first try was right off the training ground, but still needed him to break the final tackle.

Equally as important was the destructive presence of Cian Healy at loosehead prop, back in the starting XV. A first-minute breakdown turnover hinted at what was to come, while Healy obliterated the Scottish scrum before departing in the 54th minute for Jack McGrath to enter the fray.

Ireland doesn’t produce too many players of O’Brien and Healy’s ilk, meaning their ever-growing fitness is hugely encouraging in a World Cup year.

Backline thrives

Luke Fitzgerald tackled by Mark Bennett Fitzgerald fully justified his inclusion on the left wing. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland’s outside backs have come in for some criticism in this championship, none more so than Jared Payne at outside centre. However, this was a day for the men in numbers 11 to 15 to have their time in the sun.

Ulsterman Payne was excellent throughout, scoring a try, producing a handful of brilliant offloads and short passes, as well as defending solidly alongside Henshaw. The links between the latter and Fitzgerald were impressive too.

Fullback Rob Kearney had a tricky moment with Tommy Seymour’s grubber just before the Finn Russell try, but otherwise was strong at the back. Right wing Tommy Bowe showed his ability in the biggest moments too, going close to a try on a number of occasions.

Inspired by the tweaks in Ireland’s approach, the backline demonstrated their true ability.

Every moment is really special and every bit of playing time is precious

Connacht coach Pat Lam fined €8,000 for referee outburst

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Murray Kinsella

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