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Ireland hold off Scotland to win Six Nations title

For the second year in a row Ireland have been crowned Guinness Six Nations champions on home soil, and for the second year in a row they survived a few scares along the way to seal it.

Andy Farrell’s side completed back-to-back championships with a 17-13 defeat of Scotland on the final day of the campaign, overpowering the visitors in the final quarter after what had been an error-strewn first hour, which wasn’t helped by an injury in the warm-up to Hugo Keenan, who saw his place in the side taken by Jordan Larmour.

On another day, it could have been a procession for Ireland.

An indisciplined but committed Scottish defence gave up penalty after penalty in the third quarter of the game, with Ireland leading by just four points, 10-6 at the time.

Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw both saw potential tries ruled out by the TMO, while handling errors by Calvin Nash and Garry Ringrose saw further gilt-edged chances fall by the wayside.

Dan Sheehan’s fifth try of the championship had given Ireland a 7-6 lead at the break, the numbers told us that this game would decided in the final quarter, with 40% of Ireland’s tries coming in this period, and the Scots managing just 10 points in the last 20 minutes. And so it came to pass.

Gregor Townsend’s side had defended ferociously with their backs to their tryline, but Ireland finally forced their way over for their second try 15 minutes from time, as Andrew Porter gave them a 17-6 advantage.

And while they had to survive a tense final two minutes following a Huw Jones try for the visitors, they played in the right areas of the pitch to see out a championship win, giving Peter O’Mahony the honour of lifting the Six Nations trophy on what many people believe could be his final game at the Aviva for Ireland.

There was an edginess to Ireland in the opening minutes. While Sheehan started brightly to win a jackal penalty in midfield, it was a short-lived attack after Beirne spilled the ball in contact.

Lowe, meanwhile, had an inauspicious start, first seeing a kick charged down by flanker Andy Christie, but he had McCarthy to thank moments later as he stripped Zander Fagerson of the ball close to his own tryline.

A penalty against Lowe for crawling on the ground then allowed Finn Russell kick Scotland into a 3-0 lead on nine minutes, but just three minutes later a calamitous error allowed handed the defending champions their first try.

After Ireland had missed an opportunity to score in the corner following a well-intentioned lineout move, it left Scotland with a lineout of their own, five metres short of their own line.

George Turner’s throw to Grant Gilchrist went over his second row’s hands, and Sheehan reacted brilliantly to catch it at the tail (below) and run in for his fifth try of the championship.

Crowley’s conversion sent Ireland 7-3 in front, but on 16 minutes the indiscipline that has dogged them in this championship returned, as McCarthy was penalised for offside in front of the posts, and Russell tapped over three more points to make it 7-6.

It was clear that Ireland had identified space in behind the Scottish defence that they wanted to attack; three times in the opening 25 minutes Crowley kicked grubbers down into the corner when Ireland were attacking outside the 22, but the execution wasn’t right, with two of those running out over the dead-ball line.

Both sides were getting chances in an even first half, but defence was consistently coming out on top.

Stafford McDowall skipped through an Aki tackle on 27 minutes to put the visitors on the front foot, but the chance ended when a poor pass from Russell was knocked on by Van der Merwe. Next it was Ireland’s turn to meet a closed door, as Van der Flier was held up in a choke-tackle by Christie, after a big scrum penalty had put them in a promising position.

On 35 minutes, Ireland could have extended their lead as Crowley attempted a long-range penalty, but the out-half’s effort pulled to the left and wide, and while the hosts dominated possession late in the half, they couldn’t threaten a disciplined Scottish defence, who made it to half time with just a point between the sides.

With 15 minutes to stew on a potential upset, the atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium fell quite flat over the break, but Ireland came out hot to start the second half. Lowe got them moving when he made a half-break down the left wing, before popping back inside to Aki who brought them up to the 22.

The hosts went into their multi-phase attack, and while Scotland made tackle after tackle, Fagerson eventually creaked to hand over a penalty, which Crowley put straight between the posts to make it 10-6 on 43 minutes.

While it was only three points, it flicked a switch in the stadium, and when Russell sent his restart straight into touch, the Irish scrum wrestled another penalty which Crowley pinned down into the corner.

There was a greater purpose to the Irish carrying, as they inched their way close to the line, with Henshaw in particular running with power. For the third time in the opening six minutes of the half Scotland gave up a penalty, and Ireland turned down three easy points in favour of a pick-and-go.

It looked like they would be rewarded when Furlong drove over for what appeared to be a try, but with Fagerson disrupting the ball as he grounded it, the officials ruled a knock-on. And while they spent a long time checking the decision with the TMO that decision wouldn’t be overturned, despite there never being separation between the Ireland prop and the ball.

Furlong departed soon after for a HIA, but Finlay Bealham continued their scrum dominance as they continued to pin Scotland back.

A try felt inevitable, but just as they had all day, Ireland’s execution was off, with the latest missed opportunity coming after Nash spilled the ball in contact just short of the Scottish line.

Farrell went to his bench early, with Ringrose, Baird and Kelleher all coming in after 55 minutes, and while they brought enough energy to keep the foot on the pedal in terms of territory and possession, the errors remained.

Two more quick penalties in the corner arrived, as Ireland looked to put the squeeze on with some tight phases, and while the forwards were edging their way closer and closer, a Ringrose knock-on ended yet another attack.

The centre, who this week was playing on the wing, quickly made amends on 62 minutes as he arrived first on the scene to a loose ball in his own 22, and after breaking more than 50 metres up the field, it put Ireland back on the attack.

Again they crossed line, and again they saw a potential try chalked off by the TMO. This time there was no doubt that Henshaw had been held up (above) after an incredible piece of defending by Cameron Redpath.

While that try was ruled out, Scotland’s persistent indiscipline saw them reduced to 14 men, with Ewan Ashman sent to the bin, and on 65 minutes Ireland finally punished them, as a clever pick-and-go move saw Porter power over the line.

Crowley converted from straight in front of the posts, and with Ireland now two scores in front at 17-6, the full house at the Aviva started to breathe a little easier.

With an extra points buffer, Ireland looked to press home their win, but struggled to make it count, seeing a promising maul towards the line held up by the Scottish defence.

On 75 minutes, Harry Byrne picked up Ireland’s fifth yellow card of the championship for a high tackle on Russell, and Scotland took advantage within two minutes, as Jones slid off a tackle by Henshaw to run in under the posts and get the first Scottish try of the day.

Russell converted, to close the gap to 17-13 and set up a nervous finale, but they couldn’t work out a final attack, as Ireland held on to become champions again.

Ireland: Jordan Larmour; Calvin Nash, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Jack Crowley, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Harry Byrne, Garry Ringrose.

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn; Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Stafford McDowall, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell (co-capt), Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings; Andy Christie, Rory Darge, (co-capt), Jack Dempsey.

Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland, Javan Sebastian, Sam Skinner, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Cameron Redpath, Kyle Rowe.

Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)

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