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Dublin: 12°C Thursday 28 January 2021


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Good afternoon. It’s the match you’ve all been… well, expecting to see for a few weeks now.

It’s Andy Farrell’s struggling Ireland side against Gregor Townsend’s Scotland, who must come to Dublin sensing a bit of blood in the water and hoping they can show that they have gained ground on their celtic cousins since the World Cup opener in Japan.

Kick-off is 14.15 (watch it on RTE 2) and it’s fast approaching, so here is your team-sheet for the afternoon ahead. A debut awaits from Ulster prop Eric O’Sullivan as the loosehead stocks have worn thin for Farrell.

But the return of Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw give a familiar look to the back-line.


15. Jacob Stockdale
14. Hugo Keenan
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Keith Earls
10. Jonathan Sexton (Captain)
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rob Herring
3. Andrew Porter
4. Iain Henderson
5. James Ryan
6. CJ Stander
7. Peter O’Mahony
8. Caelan Doris


16. Ronan Kelleher
17. Eric O’Sullivan
18. John Ryan
19. Quinn Roux
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Jamison Gibson Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Chris Farrell


15. Stuart Hogg (captain)
14. Darcy Graham
13. Chris Harris
12. Duncan Taylor
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Jaco van der Walt
9. Ali Price

1. Rory Sutherland
2. Fraser Brown
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Scott Cummings
5. Jonny Gray
6. Blade Thomson
7. Jamie Ritchie
8. Matt Fagerson


16. Stuart McInally
17. Oli Kebble
18. Willem Nel
19. Sam Skinner
20. Blair Cowan
21. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22. Huw Jones
23. Sean Maitland

Referee: Matt Carley [RFU].

The teams are out on Lansdowne Road, Daire O’Brien is asking ‘what is a performance?’ and there is a difference of opinion among the analysts.

Stephen Ferris says it’s winning collisions, Eddie O’Sullivan reckons it’s beating the teams you should beat and when you lose, ‘it’s not a train-wreck’. Jamie Heaslip can’t quite get past it being a subjective concept.

Now for a sing-song from a fake crowd and then it’ll be time for Ireland to show a performance one way or the other.

Right, that’s the fake anthems out of the way. Time for kick-off.

Stuart Hogg takes responsibility of the kick-off, sending it to Ireland’s 22.

2 mins: James Ryan and Peter O’Mahony force a dangerous turnover in Scottish territory after a clearing kick was fielded by Hogg.

Ireland look wide quick, but Healy’s pass is two foot forward and so Hugo Keenan is called back.

4 mins: A little of the old Ireland on show there as Conor Murray box kicks high from a midfield position. Stockdale beats Hogg and Ireland have a good base, but O’Mahony attempts to chip the ball through bodies in front of Keith Earls.

The touch is far too heavy to thread the needle.

5 mins: CJ Stander makes good yardage on the carry and Jamie Ritchie, who has already caught the referee’s eye today, is penalised on the ground and it gives Johnny Sexton a chance to shoot at goal.

Sexton strikes the ball well, but he pulls it left of the posts from around 40 metres.

8 mins: Great stuff from Stuart Hogg, takes a poor pass in his 22 and turns it into a good gain because he dances past CJ Stander and tosses up a lovely offload to Blade Thomson after being tackled.

9 mins: Turnover breakdown penalty goes Scotland’s way now as Caelan Doris is penalised . Debutant Van Der Walt will take a long shot on.

We’re still scoreless. The Edinburgh 10 hit a Howitzer of an effort from over 45 metres but it pings back off the post and Ireland can clear.

Back come Scotland, though, and they have another penalty coming for offside. Cian Healy the guilty party, I think.

15 mins: Reassuring to know that commentators can still curse players. Hugh Cahill and Donal Lenihan were just praising Rob Herring as the hooker to show the best basics these past weeks and then he pops a line-out right at a Scot.

Andy Farrell’s defence survives the surprise turnover in their own 22, but it’s fair to say that this has not been the response of a performance Ireland players wanted to deliver after a stuttering win over Georgia – which in itself was a chance to respond to a thorough loss to England.

And if things had not been going bad enough for Ireland, Johnny Sexton is now getting his thigh strapped up.

He had complained of a hamstring strain in recent weeks, something he noted he never experienced before through goal-kicking. His 35-year-old body might just be showing signs of wear and tear.

19 mins: It’s all going awry now for Ireland as Scotland force a scrum penalty.

Still, there’ll only be a score in it even if Van Der Welt nails this third kick.

PENALTY! Ireland 0 Scotland 6 (Van der Walt ’20)


PENALTY! Ireland 3 Scotland 6 (Sexton ’22)


Scottish discipline gives Ireland a foothold as Fraser Brown can’t resist a dangerous low hit on Stander.

Sexton drives the central penalty from 40 metres.

PENALTY! Ireland 3 Scotland 9 (Van Der Walt ’26)


Scotland get further reward on another 22 visit, though it looks a harsh penalty against Iain Henderson after ripping the ball clear of a ruck.

Apologies, we had a few technical issues of our own as Scotland took a six-point lead there, but like Ireland we’re back in the ascendancy.

Penalty! Ireland 6 Scotland 9 (Sexton ’31)

SIN-BIN: Taylor

35 mins: Van der Walt’s third penalty really put the skids under Ireland and gave an extra bite in their next attack. An overlap was created and Taylor was called for a deliberate knock on.

Five minutes later, the 15 men of the home side are desperate to make hay against the 14 visitors and they roar back into the 22.

Huge chance to take a half-time lead here as they set for a central scrum in the 22.

36 mins: Murray and Sexton look to run a set play off the scrum, but it’s telegraphed every step of the way by Scotland’s defence and it all looks rather laboured.

The ‘off the cuff’ calls from Farrell looked a long way away there. And the problems keep on coming as Iain Henderson and Cian Healy are getting treatment.

37 mins: Ireland go to the corner from a penalty and even Bundee Aki and Henshaw are lending their weight in there.

Big moments in this game. Scotland are offside again, they’re risking going down to 13.

Sexton uses the free play to chip up beyond the try-line and Robbie Henshaw wins the aerial battle, scoops the ball backwards and Earls slides in to finish.

There’s a TMO check, but it was all clear enough.

Sexton can’t make it a four-point game with the conversion, sending a thud to the right and wide.

Mostly poor, but Ireland end on a high. Will that be the tale of Andy Farrell’s Autumn Nations Cup run come full-time?

There’s plenty of improvement needed to force a result against Scotland here. Townsend’s men bossed the game for the middle part of the first half and only went off the rails with the sin-binning of Taylor.

Here come the teams for the last 40 of Ireland’s international year.

I neglected to mention that Iain Henderson was in fact replaced by Quinn Roux before the break.

Sexton kicks off to the Scottish 22 and we’re away.

41 mins: Stockdale takes a kick, has a cut in midfield. Sexton eyes up a cross-field kick and Hogg reads it like a book, zipping to the space Sexton drops the ball into.

Taylor is back on the field so we’re 15 on 15 again.

42 mins:  That’s a better Sexton kick, grubbered towards the corner and Hogg knocks this one on.

Huge chance for Ireland to turn the screw here.

Ireland think they are over for a try at the posts thanks to a Cian Healy carry. TMO check coming.


TRY! Ireland 18 Scotland 9 (Healy ’43)

Healy gets over with a lot of help from Peter O’Mahony after a big carry from Doris took Ireland close.

Nice handy conversion for Sexton to get back on the board and give Ireland, suddenly, a commanding lead.

Ireland look back to themselves since the 30th minute.

Another penalty forced here and Sexton kicks for the corner hoping to kill this contest off.

Superb diving finish in the left corner by Earls. Ireland playing with a swagger as they took on that line-out, set a platform in the middle and then switched play back towards Earls on the left.

Sexton’s kicking rhythm is back and all. When they’re good, they’re good.

Ireland 25 Scotland 9

Van der Merwe comes up with a try out of nothing, ghosting from a static ruck through Rob Herring and then dancing around Stockdale and he beats Earls in the race to the line.

Van der Walt adds the conversion and the game is back to a 9-point affair.

Ireland 25 Scotland 16

60 mins: Keith Earls is well on course for man of the match if Ireland can hang on to this lead, he brilliantly takes an awkwardly bouncing ball kicked through by Stockdale.

Unfortunately, Scotland are not gone yet, because Ireland can’t build on the position and ship a penalty while attacking in the 22.

Another penalty in midfield compounds frustration and the visitors have an attacking line-out in Ireland’s 22.

Referee says there has been an accusation of a gouge from Scotland. Big TMO review coming.

Quinn Roux was the man in focus, the Connacht man seemed to just be reaching over the ruck. If anything, he may have inadvertently clawed near Brown’s face, but the replay doesn’t show anything close to the eye.

63 mins:  Johnny Sexton never looks happy coming off, but this time it is clearly due to an injury. Ross Byrne is tasked with closing this one out for Ireland.

And a breakdown penalty comes through pressure from Ireland’s tight five and Byrne will get a chance to open his account nice and early.

PENALTY! Ireland 28 Scotland 16 (Byrne ’65)


Daylight between the sides and Eric O’Sullivan makes his debut by replaceing Cian Healy.

A young Irish front row show their mettle as they dominate a Scottish pack and force a penalty. Ireland really are finishing this troubled year on an upswing, not least Peter O’Mahony who just loves playing Scottish teams.

As we say that, Peter O’Mahony got on the end of a 20-phase Ireland move and powered himself into a diving finish in the right corner.

He’s in touch by a matter of centimetres. Ireland go back for a penalty and, as captain, O’Mahony is still arguing the decision before pointing for the posts.

PENALTY! Ireland 31 Scotland 16 (Byrne ’75)

And there ends Ireland’s international rugby year.

Just nine Tests, all against northern hemisphere opposition and they found themselves well below the standard of England and France, but a cut above the rest.

Andy Farrell’s second year will begin away to Wales in February before a Valentine’s Day clash with France – a home tie that Farrell will hope to underline the work the squad has done on his watch.

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Sean Farrell


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