Five things we learned from Scotland v Ireland

Ireland ensured a date with destiny after downing Scotland 22-7 at BT Murrayfield.

Ireland ensured a date with destiny after downing Scotland 22-7 at BT Murrayfield.

Not since 1985 have Ireland wrapped up the Championship title on home soil, but they will have the chance to do so this year after a fourth win in as many games.

England will head to the Aviva Stadium hoping to spoil the Grand Slam party on Super Saturday but let’s first reflect on what was another memorable outing for Ireland in Edinburgh.

Irish depth pays dividends

The cavalry returned for Ireland for this one and just in the nick of time too.

Andy Farrell recalled six Test animals for this blockbuster clash in the form of Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong and Peter O’Mahony.

But it was the depth of his squad – and their versatility – that would be tested like never before.

Farrell lost both his hookers by the 48th minute, saw Caelan Doris depart in the opening stages and witnessed Ringrose depart on a stretcher late in the game, and yet his side still came out on top.

Cian Healy moonlighted at hooker for more than half an hour while Josh van der Flier was Ireland’s lineout thrower for the whole of the second half – hardly an ideal situation for Farrell, but neither setback could throw the Irish juggernaut of course.

In fact, Healy’s scrummaging from hooker and Van der Flier’s throwing were actually assets in the Irish game as they earned penalties and produced clean lineout ball.

Bar Ronan Kelleher, who lasted just 30 minutes, each member of the Irish bench was key to their success.

Tom O’Toole delivered another assured performance when slotting into the front row while Ryan Baird was full of energy from the moment he entered the fray in the 23rd minute.

And it was two Leinster men who lived up to their billing as impact players that helped Ireland pull clear, with Jamison Gibson-Park notching the assist for Ireland’s second try and Jack Conan grabbing the nerve-settling third 20 minutes from time.

Sexton draws level with O’Gara after winning Russell duel

Super Saturday has a triple meaning for Johnny Sexton.

Not only could he become just the fourth Irishman to captain his country to a Grand Slam, he could also move clear of Ronan O’Gara as the Six Nations’ all-time record points scorer on what will likely be his last ever match in the Championship.

Sexton moved level with O’Gara on 557 points in Round 4, and should he avoid what is looking like a packed Ireland treatment room, he will likely take the title off his predecessor in Dublin.

The headline battle in Edinburgh was of course Sexton against Finn Russell.

Less than two years ago Russell was one of three fly-halves selected ahead of Sexton for the British & Irish Lions Tour of South Africa.

The Irish stand-off has enjoyed something of an Indian summer since that surprise omission, guiding his team to the summit of the world rankings.

His latest victory, both with Ireland and in his duel with Russell, came on Sunday.

The Scot arguably started brighter in a first half which Andy Farrell described as ‘organised chaos’ but once the tempo slowed, Sexton took control, with Russell unable to rescue Scotland’s wandering accuracy and shape.

In the seven occasions the pair have come head-to-head at club and country, Sexton has never finished on the losing side.

Ireland back three simply sublime

Ireland’s back three will receive a lot of plaudits and rightly so but amongst their breath-taking attacking play was some exemplary defending.

Should Ireland go on to achieve the Grand Slam then many will remember Hugo Keenan’s try against France and James Lowe’s effort against Wales but few will remember their combined defensive effort at a crucial stage in the game against Scotland.

Having just taken an 8-7 lead, Ireland were in danger of falling behind once more when Duhan van der Merwe picked up Finn Russell’s short pass inside the 22.

Keenan then made a brilliant and equally brave tackle to stop the Scotland flyer before Lowe and Josh van der Flier piled in to win an all-important turnover.

Player of the Match Mack Hansen followed suit shortly after the interval, forcing Stuart Hogg into a penalty for holding on after arriving at the breakdown in double quick time.

Of course, Hansen registered a try and an assist and Lowe was also among the scorers, but Ireland’s back three offer so much more than just an attacking threat.

This trio are the only unit in Andy Farrell’s side that have not been broken up during the first four rounds, and that’s no wonder. They are vital in making this team tick.

Scotland midfield continues to shine

Before Round 1 of this year’s Championship, Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones had never started an international fixture together.

In fact, they had only been paired together on three occasions for Glasgow Warriors, but Gregor Townsend must have seen enough in those matches to know he had the makings of something special.

Since that famous win over England, they have excelled as a partnership and as individuals.

With his aggressive carrying, Tuipulotu is the perfect foil for Finn Russell at 12 but he is far more than just a battering ram.

He has chipped in with three assists during this campaign, all of which have been for his midfield mate Jones, and has shown a deft kicking game too.

Tuipulotu works tirelessly off the ball, as does Jones, whose return to the Scotland side after a two-year absence has been nothing short of remarkable.

His try-scoring abilities have never been in doubt – his record of 16 tries from 28 starts speaks for itself – but his ability to defend and compete physically at the highest level have been questioned in the past.

Jones has laid those debates to rest over the last few weeks. The short burst through Garry Ringrose for his fourth try of this year’s Guinness Six Nations showed just how powerful he can be.

BT Murrayfield rises to salute their stars

Honestly, it felt like the stars had aligned for a Scotland victory.

Not only was it Stuart Hogg’s 100th Scotland cap but it was also the 300th Test played at BT Murrayfield.

Throw in Ireland’s injury woes and the unexpectedly pleasant playing conditions, which suited Finn Russell’s expansive approach better than it did Johnny Sexton’s, and the afternoon had all the ingredients of a Scotland success.

Taking all that into account, there is an argument to say this was Scotland’s best chance to beat Ireland.

But in the end, they just ran out of puff. In fact, after vastly-improved second-half performances in each of their first three games, this was the first time that their level dropped after the break. Perhaps the emotion of the occasion eventually took its toll?

Speaking after the game, Gregor Townsend praised the crowd for creating an electric atmosphere, and said that his players wanted to secure the win for them.

It was not to be and the wait for a Triple Crown will now tick into its 34th year.

But you would not know that it was a day of disappointment judging by the number of Scotland fans who remained behind to applaud their team off the field.

They will be back in their droves next weekend to make sure their team finishes the campaign on a high against Italy, where they will look to secure just a second top-three finish since 2013.