Ireland 19-12 Scotland: Johnny Sexton scores all the points in Six Nations win
Scotland left to rue Stuart Hogg's error after captain drops ball over try-line early in second half; watch match highlights
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 02/02/20 8:12pm
Johnny Sexton's 19-point haul got head coach Andy Farrell off to a winning start, as Ireland beat Scotland 19-12 in a tense Six Nations opener.
Scotland had plenty of chances themselves but passed up numerous promising openings - none more blatant than when skipper Stuart Hogg dropped the ball over the try-line when attempting to ground on 50 minutes.
Sexton registered a try, conversion and four penalties in the win, while Adam Hastings - starting at fly-half in the absence of Finn Russell for off-field issues - notched all of Scotland's points off the tee, but their search for a first win at the Aviva Stadium continues.
Ireland host Wales in Dublin in Round 2 next Saturday, while Scotland host England at Murrayfield later the same day.
After a confident and positive start, Scotland hit the front after just six minutes when Ireland's James Ryan was penalised for failing to roll away, and Hastings stepped up to split the uprights from close range.
In the same moment, Ireland's promising No 8 Caelan Doris was forced to exit just minutes into his debut, having clashed heads with Hastings and been knocked out cold.
Ireland earned a penalty soon after, but skipper Sexton turned down the potential shot at goal for a kick to the corner - it proved exactly the right decision when he subsequently grounded for a try.
On penalty advantage, loosehead prop Cian Healy produced a superbly disguised reverse ball to Conor Murray, who then found Sexton with a cut-back pass for the fly-half to run over on 10 minutes.
Sexton passed up the chance to punish Scotland's indiscipline again within two minutes, as the Ireland skipper missed wide off the tee from 42 metres, and Ireland were thankful for a CJ Stander turnover on the ground moments later to quell an intense spell of Scotland attack.
Scotland narrowed that lead to a single point just six minutes later when Healy was penalised for hinging at the scrum, and Hastings struck over on the angle.
On 24 minutes, replacement Peter O'Mahony earned a breakdown turnover on his own line after Sam Johnson had made great ground to keep Scotland out, as the visitors' pacey attacking play continued to cause problems.
Hastings passed up the next clear chance for points when he drifted a kick wide from just inside the touchline, and opposite number Sexton made no such mistake minutes later, striking between the posts from 39 metres when Ali Price was pinged for offside.
Ireland led 10-6 at the break, and four minutes into the second period the home side stretched that lead by three more points when Sexton punished Jamie Ritchie for failing to roll away.
A Larmour intercept saved Ireland at the other end before Scotland skipper Hogg then dropped the ball over the try-line when attempting to ground the ball with one hand in the corner under no pressure - a huge error from the full-back.
The mistake had come on penalty advantage, which Scotland chose to kick as Hastings narrowed the Ireland lead to 13-9.
Ireland restored their lead to seven points on 57 minutes, when Scotland were penalised for kicking the ball in the ruck and Sexton slotted home.
With 14 minutes left, Scotland reduced the contest back to a four-point game when Hastings struck over, setting up a fascinating final quarter.
Scotland centre Johnson gave away a cheap penalty with just eight minutes left as he shoved Andrew Conway off the ball, and Sexton knocked it over from just outside the visitors' 22.
Still, Scotland continued to pile at the Ireland line, and the result was only assured when Stander won an enormous turnover on his own line with two minutes remaining.
More than anything else, Ireland's defence won them the Test match. It was superbly organised, physical and yielded game-altering turnovers at crucial moments.
Stander was huge, winning two breakdown penalties deep in his own 22, while Peter O'Mahony won one on his own line in the first half. Josh van der Flier stood out also in a very positive all-round back-row display.
A note too for captain Sexton, who hadn't played since early December due to a knee injury, but was composed and accomplished, with his 19-point haul equalling his best ever in an Irish jersey.
For Scotland, their attacking play had brilliant verve and pace to it, and their willingness to attack, link up and go wide was refreshing.
Defensively and physically, Scotland were the best they have been at this level in some time, but their profligacy in terms of chances created proved critical.
Hogg will have nightmares about his faux pax in the in-goal area - an error likely to be the worst this entire Championship.
Scotland's ruck accuracy was not at the required level either, as time and again Ireland managed to steal in, jackal over the ball and turn it over. Gregor Townsend's men were unreliable at lineout time too, losing three.
Ireland, despite victory, were scruffy and lacked fluidity also. There are plenty for Farrell and co to improve.
Stat of the Game
19 - Scotland had scored a try in 19 consecutive #SixNations matches before failing to do so in this match, their longest such run in the Championship’s history and the longest active run of any nation heading into this tournament. Margin. pic.twitter.com/A3eXhpVF3U— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 1, 2020