Scotland 7-22 Ireland: Andy Farrell's side remain on for Six Nations Grand Slam after remarkable win
Mack Hansen, James Lowe, Jack Conan score tries in crucial Ireland Six Nations win over Scotland, despite losing Caelan Doris, Dan Sheehan, Iain Henderson, Ronan Kelleher, Garry Ringrose to injury; Huw Jones scored in defeat for hosts; Johnny Sexton becomes joint-leading 6N point scorer
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 13/03/23 6:16am
Ireland's quest for a fourth ever Six Nations Grand Slam remains on, after Andy Farrell's side refused to let a series of disruptive injuries deny them against Scotland, winning 22-7 at Murrayfield.
The visitors lost three of their starting forward pack inside the opening 25 minutes - No 8 Caelan Doris, hooker Dan Sheehan and second-row Iain Henderson - and then lost replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher early in the second half, leaving them, remarkably, scrummaging with replacement prop Cian Healy at hooker, and with flanker Josh van der Flier the lineout thrower.
Yet they regrouped to score vital second-half tries through wing James Lowe - following a wonderful piece of aerial skill from Mack Hansen - and No 8 Jack Conan, after Hansen and Scotland centre Huw Jones had traded tries in a tight and tense, albeit fast-paced, first half.
Scotland 7-22 Ireland - Score summary
Scotland - Tries: Jones (17). Cons: Russell (18).
Ireland - Tries: Hansen (28), Lowe (57), Conan (62). Cons: Sexton (58, 63). Pens: Sexton (13).
Ireland's defence never wavered on the day either, repeatedly knocking Scotland back and keeping them out despite immense disarrangement to the side, and it leaves them one victory away - with England to come to Dublin next week - from adding to previous Grand Slam efforts in 1948, 2009 and 2018.
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Ireland made much of the early running, and a moment of controversy followed in the sixth minute as a potential try went unawarded, but not for anything the visitors had done.
Rather, it was because Scotland had taken a quick lineout within their own 22 with the wrong ball, sending it long into the arms of a leaping Doris, before Sheehan forced his way over. Referee Luke Pearce quickly ruled out the score in a huge let off for the hosts, much to Johnny Sexton and his side's acute annoyance.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend made two changes to the starting XV to take on Ireland; Lock forward Jonny Gray, back-row Jack Dempsey came in to start, with Grant Gilchrist suspended after his red card vs France and Hamish Watson dropped to the bench; Full-back Stuart Hogg started for his 100th Scotland Test cap
Key men Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose and Tadhg Furlong each proved their fitness to start for Ireland, while Bundee Aki was preferred to Stuart McCloskey at inside-centre - the latter missing out on the squad altogether due to Robbie Henshaw's return from a wrist injury on the bench. Conor Murray started at scrum-half despite Jamison Gibson-Park's return, Dan Sheehan started over Ronan Kelleher at hooker, while Peter O'Mahony returned at blindside flanker.
Ireland continued to come forward in attack after James Ryan claimed a second early lineout steal, and on 13 minutes, after a barrage of pressure within the Scotland 22 during which Garry Ringrose was stopped just short, Sexton chose to take the points on offer via a penalty for a 3-0 lead after the home defensive line were caught offside.
Doris - perhaps Ireland's best player in the championship to date - soon limped off having hurt his hip in the non-try incident, before Scotland carved out their first threatening attack: Jones and co looking dangerous during a 17-phase set, only for Ireland's Sexton and Ryan to succeed in tackling centurion full-back Stuart Hogg into touch.
The Scots didn't let their heads drop, though, and two minutes later Jones was over off a no-look Sione Tuipulotu short ball for the opening try, with prop Pierre Schoeman, playmaker Finn Russell and wing Duhan van der Merwe each heavily involved in the lead-up as Conor Murray was punished for not finding touch with a clearance kick.
Sheehan and Henderson then departed within four minutes of one another, but Ireland were dogged in maintaining their standards at both ends, producing a lovely passage of play - including a stunning Hugo Keenan pass - for Hansen to score in the corner, with the energetic wing doing exceptionally to ground the ball despite the likely illegal attentions - no-arms tackle - of the sizeable Van der Merwe.
Sexton missed the tricky conversion to leave Ireland a single point ahead, but Van der Flier and Lowe next combined for a vital breakdown penalty near the Ireland try-line to keep Scotland out past the half hour, after Van der Merwe had been set into space by Russell and was crucially chopped down by Keenan.
Hogg was incredibly lucky not to be sent to the sin-bin after cynically playing the arm of Murray while off-feet near his own try-line once Conan, Lowe and Aki had made breaks, but ref Pearce saw fit to give just a penalty - perhaps being swayed from further punishment after being irked by Ireland's Ryan requesting yellow.
Ireland failed to add points after a sustained spell, before Scotland skipper Jamie Ritchie, in consultation with Russell and Hogg, turned down a potential shot for points from distance via a penalty in the final play of the half, and it proved the wrong call as the Irish tackled their opponents into touch again: a combination of Lowe and loosehead Andrew Porter putting hooker George Turner out.
Two bouts of on-pitch treatment and a lineout overthrow at a big moment in the first half had hinted at something problematic for Kelleher, and the Leinsterman was next to depart unable to throw due to a shoulder knock, leaving Ireland scrambling for options to avoid going down to 14 men and uncontested scrums for the final 32 minutes.
Their solution was extraordinary shifts from Healy and Van der Flier out of position, though no one could have expected the two players would be able to provide Ireland with such functioning set-pieces.
Despite the chaotic events, Ireland scored the critical next try as a fabulous high ball take from Hansen in the Scotland 22 under a Jamison Gibson-Park box-kick - after he had twice thwarted attacks with brilliant breakdown turnovers in the half already - laid the platform, before Lowe finished in the opposite corner after a trademark quick Irish attack had stretched and strained Scotland beyond survival.
Sexton converted beautifully from out wide too to leave Ireland more than a score ahead, with the fact a pressure lineout had been delivered from Van der Flier within the Irish 22, and a scrum penalty won with Healy in the middle of props Porter and Tadhg Furlong in the lead-up to the score, summing up the day quite wonderfully, if not miraculously.
Riding the crest of their own momentum, and with openside Van der Flier improbably managing to provide possession through the lineout - ably assisted by Peter O'Mahony's sensational vertical jumping ability - Ireland soon had a third try through replacement Conan, with Hansen again involved as he stutter-stepped, dummied and threw a lovely miss-pass for the former to ride the challenge of Van der Merwe and ground one-handed.
Sexton again converted brilliantly - drawing level with compatriot Ronan O'Gara as the leading Six Nations points scorer in history on 557 by doing so - and though Ireland lost key centre Ringrose to a serious head injury thereafter, they looked the more threatening to score again as a magnificent late counterattack involving Lowe, Gibson-Park and Ryan just failed to come off when the lock knocked on in a final offload attempt.
The remaining time saw Ireland defend the Test out strongly and comfortably, passing up a clear chance for a bonus-point clinching fourth try themselves when Healy failed to tap the ball before playing it from five metres out, but they nonetheless secured a memorable and quite unique Six Nations victory.
What they said...
Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton told BBC Sport...
"That today was one of the toughest first halves of rugby I've played, the pace that it was played at.
"With the amount of injuries we had and to have Cian Healy come on and play hooker, it's an amazing feat so fair play to him - it kept us in the game because we would have had to go down to 14 men if he didn't.
"Some good management at half-time by Andy [Farrell] and Paul [O'Connell], it was chaos figuring out what we were going to do but we stuck at it. We knew that we could get by at scrum time and had to find a way at lineout and had to do the same move over and over again.
"Scotland are a top team, they've had some great results over the last year or two and we're delighted to come away with a win."
Ireland's player of the match Mack Hansen told BBC Sport...
"We knew that this was going to be our toughest game of the year. It was such a tough Test match.
"We went in and we said this is exactly why we play, this is what we want to be doing. We weren't worried, we came out firing and we knew what we could do. We're normally a fast starting team and we didn't get the start we wanted so we thought: 'Alright we will turn it on in the second half instead.'
"We lost some really key players but it just shows our depth. It's a great team to be a part of."
Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie told BBC Sport...
"I think in that first half, we lacked a bit of a clinical edge. We created a couple of opportunities that we didn't put away.
"Credit to Ireland - in the second half, they put a lot of pressure on our breakdown, we couldn't get any continuity and didn't create as many chances, so a tough one.
"They're a very good side, they're No 1 in the world for a reason."
Scotland conclude their 2023 Six Nations campaign with another home fixture as they face Italy at Murrayfield in Edinburgh next Saturday March 18 (12.30pm kick-off GMT).
Scotland's Six Nations 2023 fixtures
|Saturday, February 4||England 23-29 Scotland|
|Saturday, February 11||Scotland 35-7 Wales|
|Sunday, February 26||France 32-21 Scotland|
|Sunday, March 12||Scotland 7-22 Ireland|
|Saturday, March 18||Scotland vs Italy||12.30pm|
Ireland conclude their Six Nations seeking a Grand Slam with a home match vs England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin next Saturday March 18 (5pm kick-off GMT).
Ireland's Six Nations 2023 fixtures
|Saturday, February 4||Wales 10-34 Ireland|
|Saturday, February 11||Ireland 32-19 France|
|Saturday, February 25||Italy 20-34 Ireland|
|Sunday, March 12||Scotland 7-22 Ireland|
|Saturday, March 18||Ireland vs England||5pm|