Ireland began the Andy Farrell era with a scrappy home win over Scotland in February and the coach ended an inconsistent first year in charge with a somewhat improved 31-16 victory over the same opponents in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday.
Two tries from wing Keith Earls and one for prop Cian Healy in a 10-minute spell either side of halftime did the damage as Ireland recovered from a poor start to claim third spot in the tournament cobbled together during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We feel that we aren’t at the top table yet, we haven’t been able to win away from home against the big teams like France and England but we’ve won every other game” captain Johnny Sexton said in a pitchside interview.
“The performances haven’t been amazing for 80 minutes but we back our coaches, we think they’re doing an outstanding job. Very different to the previous regime and it takes a bit of getting used to but we’re happy with our progress.”
Ireland’s recent set-piece and breakdown struggles persisted early on as Jaco van der Walt kicked Scotland into a deserved 9-3 lead in an assured debut but a Duncan Taylor yellow card on the half hour changed the game and the hosts never looked back.
Another recent Irish issue in making possession count deep in opposition territory was not such a struggle against 14 men. A clever lob from Sexton and tap back in the in-goal area from the impressive Robbie Henshaw handed Earls the opening try.
It was the Munsterman’s 31st Ireland try, putting him in sole possession of second spot in the nation’s all-time list and the hosts into an 11-9 halftime lead.
Ireland started the second period as they finished the first and some strong carrying from the pack, especially man-of-the-match Caelan Doris, culminated in Healy barrelling over the line for a nine-point lead.
Utterly dominant, Ireland looked out of site after 50 minutes when some lovely hands from flanker Peter O’Mahony put Earls through in the corner to cut the gap in the try standings behind Brian O’Driscoll to an only mildly less yawning 14 tries.
But Farrell will be annoyed at how Ireland switched off with Rob Herring caught napping at the back of the ruck, allowing another of Scotland’s South African trio, Duhan van der Merwe, to pick the ball up and sprint through for his second try in three games.
That was as close as Scotland came despite Sexton hobbling off with a dead leg as his replacement Ross Byrne kicked two more penalties to extend the Scottish losing streak in Dublin to 10 years.
“We worked incredibly hard for the last couple of months but unfortunately today we’ve potentially gone back a step,” said Scotland captain Stuart Hogg.
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