Jacob Stockdale opened his 2019 Guinness Six Nations account as Ireland bounced back from an opening day defeat with a 22-13 victory over Scotland at BT Murrayfield.
Having been shocked by England a week ago on home soil, the Grand Slam champions showed all their class to run in three tries, with Conor Murray and Keith Earls also going over.
Sam Johnson got his first try for Scotland, but Gregor Townsend’s side came away with nothing in the end as Ireland dominated the second half.
It was Scotland who got off to a flying start, putting early pressure on their visitors. A first penalty was kicked to the corner but when Bundee Aki was penalised for hands in the ruck, Greig Laidlaw took advantage to slot three points and put Gregor Townsend’s side in front.
Ireland had barely touched the ball, but when they did finally get hold of it, they made it count.
A first attacking lineout came to nothing, but after a fine kick ahead from Stockdale, Tommy Seymour misjudged the position of Sean Maitland and his pass back was far too strong. The winger inevitably could not take it, with Murray the beneficiary to dot down.
Johnny Sexton had picked up a knock in the build-up, and that appeared to affect him as he missed a relatively straightforward conversion.
He did however make the difference for Ireland’s second try a couple of minutes later. It was brilliantly worked off a lineout, at second phase Peter O’Mahony switched with Sexton who then fed Stockdale on his inside, and he raced past two front rowers and sprinted in from 45 metres. Murray took over kicking duties and added the conversion to make it 12-3.
The Scots had been dealt a further blow with Stuart Hogg forced off, meaning an early introduction for last week’s hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn.
Scotland almost hit back with some wonderful feet from Finn Russell. He danced out of two tackles before putting in a delightful grubber that was just too deep for Sam Johnson. In the end the play was called back for an earlier forward pass but it was an indication of Scotland’s attacking threat.
Their first try came just before the half-hour, although on this occasion it was more due to Irish generosity than anything else.
Joey Carbery, on for the injured Sexton, threw a speculative pass which Russell picked off. He did not quite have the pace to hold off the retreating Earls, but he showed incredible patience and vision to pop the ball up to Sam Johnson to score. Laidlaw’s penalty made it 12-10.
The Scots will feel they could have had another before the break, but a long passage five minutes from the Irish line ended with a scrum to the visitors as Scotland failed to punch a way through.
While Scotland finished the first half the stronger, it was Ireland who dominated early after the break.
Initially the Scottish defence coped well, but when Carbery slipped through two tackles around halfway, he found himself in acres of space and delivered the perfect wide pass to put Earls over.
Scotland had struggled for any possession in the second half, but when Aki was penalised at a ruck, Laidlaw slotted three more points to make it 19-13 and a one-score game once more.
However with 13 minutes remaining Josh Strauss failed to roll away at a ruck, handing Carbery a simple three points
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw said: “We are frustrated and disappointed. But you have to give credit to them, they took their opportunities.
“Any time you lose a Test match it is disappointing, but we cannot have soft moments against a team like them.”
Ireland captain Rory Best said: “We have a lot of belief, that was a really tough game. But we asked for a physical reaction and by and large we got that.
“Maybe it was not the most especially attractive game but it was two teams who went hard and we are very grateful to win.”
Rob Kearney made his return for Ireland at full-back in place of the injured Robbie Henshaw. Usually his strength is under the high ball, but Scotland rarely tested him in that regard. However it was hitting the line that Kearney was particularly dangerous. He was able to cut through the Scottish defence at regular intervals, with one in the second half leading to the disorder that saw Keith Earls go over.
Ireland had weathered a Scottish storm at the end of the first half and then came out all guns blazing in the second. It did not pay off immediately, but when Joey Carbery slipped through the tackles of Allan Dell and Rob Harley, Scotland could never recover. He looked to be on his way to the line himself, but recognising that he might not have the legs, he floated a beautiful pass to put Keith Earls over.