SEXTON CARRIES IRELAND TO VICTORY IN TENSE SCOTLAND CLASH
Johnny Sexton led from the front in his first home match as Ireland captain as he scored all 19 points in a tense victory against Scotland.
The fly-half scored the only try of the match and kicked four penalties and a conversion to give Andy Farrell victory in his game as Ireland head coach.
Scotland tested and probed throughout in a much-improved performance from their World Cup loss to Ireland in September but they could not breach the hosts’ stubborn defence.
Adam Hastings booted four penalties, while captain Stuart Hogg wasted their best chance by knocking on just as he was about to touch down for a try in the second half.
Ireland are back at home against Wales in Round 2 while Scotland seek their first win of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations in the Calcutta Cup against England at BT Murrayfield.
A trip to Dublin was perhaps the last thing Scotland wanted after that 27-3 defeat to their Celtic rivals in Yokohama, but they started with an intensity that will have pleased head coach Gregor Townsend.
His side are at their best when playing off the cuff and, with Hogg twisting and turning out of tackles and Hastings offloading out the back of his hand, they were in their element.
That bright start caught Ireland out and Hastings booted Scotland ahead from the tee after a penalty. But when in doubt, it is best stick to the tried and tested and Ireland’s set-piece inflicted familiar damage.
Nine of their 12 2019 Championship tries came from the lineout and they started this year in similar vein, with Scotland struggling to defend from their five-metre line.
With the drive from close range drifting back to the right, scrum-half Conor Murray spotted space to his left and fizzed a pass to Sexton, who strolled in to score.
Hastings responded with a second penalty after Cian Healy was found guilty at the scrum but it was a frustrating half for the visitors, who were turned over twice five metres from the Ireland line.
Hastings also pushed a penalty attempt wide of the far post from tight on the left touchline and was made to pay by Sexton, who fired through a penalty of his own to extend the lead to 10-6.
The half finished in thrilling fashion. Bundee Aki’s line break, carried on by Garry Ringrose, took Ireland deep into Scotland territory but a pass intended for wing Jacob Stockdale was intercepted by Scotland’s Sam Johnson.
The inside centre went as fast as he could but was caught by Stockdale 50 metres up the other end, before Scotland kept the attack going through a series of off-loads until CJ Stander won an Ireland penalty on the ground.
IRELAND GRIND IT OUT
With such a slender lead, all points are vital and Sexton got Ireland off to the perfect start in the second half with his second penalty of the game.
But the pattern of the first half quickly resumed, with Scotland on top and pushing to score. However, their profligacy continued as Hogg wasted a fine opportunity to score when he knocked on while crossing the try line after finding space on the left.
The referee brought play back for Hastings to boot through a penalty but Ireland went straight up the other end for Sexton to reply with his third.
Andy Farrell turned to his bench, bringing on in-form scrum-half John Cooney for Murray, but that did not immediately stop the flow of the match.
Scotland continued to show encouraging signs in possession, testing Ireland’s stubborn defence and it led to a fourth Hastings penalty in the 65th minute to claw the score back to 16-12.
But Ireland are nothing if not experienced at grinding bout close matches and a fourth Sexton penalty in the 73rd minute stretched the lead back to seven points.
And there was still time for one final defensive display from Ireland, with Stander winning a penalty on his own try-line after a multi-phase Scotland move initially sparked by a Hamish Watson break.
Scotland were impressive throughout the match but will rue wasted opportunities, especially Hogg’s midway through the second half.
The full-back is arguably Scotland’s best player and was left to stroll in unopposed in the corner to finally get the breakthrough.
But his drop, coupled with Sexton’s penalty minutes later, made the difference in a close defeat.
TRIES: Sexton (9′)
PENALTIES : Sexton (34′,44′,56′,72′)
CONVERSIONS : Sexton (11′)
PENALTIES: Hastings (4′, 15′, 51′, 65′)
IRELAND: Jordan Larmour; Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton (captain), Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, John Cooney, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw.
SCOTLAND: Stuart Hogg (captain); Sean Maitland, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Nick Haining.
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Cornell du Preez, George Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Chris Harris.
Ireland v Scotland
@ Aviva Stadium
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)