...and next it’s Ireland to pile on misery as Farrell’s men hunt Grand Slam
IRELAND limped on to a flight back to Dublin last night with the Gaelic drinking vessel awarded for winning this clash in their hand luggage, but their eyes on a significantly bigger prize next week.
All roads now lead to the Aviva Stadium, where 80 minutes against a woeful England side lies between Ireland and the Grand Slam.
Andy Farrell’s team will step out as overwhelming favourites. This punishing victory over Scotland, to claim the Centenary Quaich, came at the expense of five injuries — Dan Sheehan, Ronan Kelleher, Iain Henderson, Caelan Doris and Garry Ringrose — yet the green machine still charged towards the title.
It will take a monumental and highly unlikely turnaround by England to rain on the parade. ‘England will certainly be hurting and it’s a perfect opportunity to come and spoil the party,’ said Farrell. ‘That will be a massive motivation for them. Is that a bigger motivation than what we’re going to experience playing at home for our Grand Slam game on St Patrick’s weekend? We’ll see. It is what dreams are made of.’
England’s coaches will study Scotland’s first-half performance. For 40 minutes, they went toe-to-toe with the heavyweights, slowing
down their ruck ball and repeatedly breaking into the 22. The home side scored the opening try when Huw Jones cut a hard line off Sione Tuipulotu, as Irish defenders were distracted by the sight of Finn Russell swooping in behind.
Scotland stretched the Irish with their phase play but failed to capitalise and were turned over by Mack Hansen and often ushered into touch. Adding to three points from the boot of Johnny Sexton, Hansen scored to give Ireland an 8-7 lead at half-time. Scotland blew their chances and so went their hopes of securing a first Triple Crown since 1990. As Ireland’s injuries mounted, they were forced into desperate measures. Losing both hookers, flanker Josh van der Flier took over the line-out throwing and Cian Healy stepped into the No 2 spot at the scrum. Yet Scotland failed to take advantage. Ireland won penalties at the scrum and nailed five out of six lineouts. ‘It wasn’t champagne rugby, but in terms of character, fight and want for each other — that’s the best game I’ve been involved in,’ said Farrell.
‘If you’d have seen us at halftime, honestly you’d have laughed because all the lads were laughing.
‘It was organised chaos, we didn’t know what was happening until the last second.’ Replacement scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park thumped a box kick into the 22 and Hansen leaped above Duhan van der Merwe to claim. Maintaining their width, James Lowe scored on the wing a few phases later. Scotland’s energy sapped. Attacking from a line-out, Jack Conan scored the third. Sexton’s conversion took him level with Ronan O’Gara as the leading Six Nations points scorer of all time. Ireland pushed for the bonus-point try but lock James Ryan was hauled down just short, saving Scotland from one final humiliation.