Ireland clinched the Triple Crown for the first time since 2018 and kept their Guinness Six Nations title hopes alive with a 26-5 bonus-point victory over Scotland in Dublin.
Andy Farrell’s men knew only a win would do on Super Saturday as they looked to summon the spirit of the 2015 Championship when they narrowly claimed the title on the final day.
That day Ireland defeated Scotland 40-10 in Edinburgh and while they were unable to repeat that emphatic scoreline, the hosts put the pressure on Grand Slam-chasing France.
First-half tries from Dan Sheehan and Cian Healy put them in control at the break, with Pierre Schoeman responding for the visitors just before half-time to make it 14-5.
Further tries from Josh van der Flier and Conor Murray wrapped up the bonus-point, securing the Triple Crown while forcing France to win against England in the Super Saturday finale to secure the Championship crown.
POWER PUTS IRELAND IN CONTROL
Ireland went into the game full of confidence, having won seven of their last eight Championship matches against Scotland – with their 2017 defeat in Edinburgh the only blot on their record.
Farrell made three changes to the side that defeated England 32-15 last weekend, with Iain Henderson, Jack Conan and Mack Hansen returning to the starting line-up.
But while all the pre-match focus was on Ireland’s title push, Scotland were never going to roll over and the visitors started on the front foot during a chaotic opening to the contest.
Early breaks from Darcy Graham and Ali Price signalled Scotland’s intent before a penalty allowed the men in dark blue to kick to the corner, only for George Turner to fail to find his man at the lineout.
After ten minutes with limited possession, Ireland began to work their way into the game and a 50:22 kick from the boot of Johnny Sexton gave the hosts attacking ball.
From there Ireland began to turn the screw and after a couple of penalties, Sexton edged his side nearer the corner before Sheehan peeled off a driving maul to crash over on 18 minutes.
Sexton stepped up to add the extras and it was not long before Ireland had their second, with the men in green exerting their power once again as the half-hour mark approached.
An offside penalty from Scotland presented Farrell’s side with the opportunity, one they grasped with both hands after Sexton kicked his side back into the visitors’ half.
Wave after wave of attack piled forward before a crunching carry from Sheehan off the back of a ruck put Ireland within striking distance, allowing Healy to force his way over moments later.
Another successful conversion from Sexton put Ireland in the driving seat at 14-0 up, leaving Scotland in desperate need of a score before half-time to stay in touch.
And that’s exactly what they got on 35 minutes as Gregor Townsend’s men finally managed to put together a series of phases after a break from Graham took Scotland into the Irish 22.
With Blair Kinghorn orchestrating the attack – having replaced Finn Russell at No.10 – Scotland’s forwards went to work with multiple heavy carries putting them within range before Schoeman dummied and muscled over the whitewash.
Kinghorn was unable to convert but suddenly Scotland were back in business, going into the break 14-5 behind after surviving another late Ireland attack under their own posts.
IRELAND LAY DOWN CHALLENGE
While a victory would be enough to put Ireland ahead in the table ahead of France’s meeting with England, the hosts knew that a bonus-point would pile the pressure on Les Bleus.
So it was no surprise to see Ireland taking more chances after the restart, with a quick Jamison Gibson-Park tap penalty and kick giving Hansen hope before he was dragged into touch.
Ireland laid siege to the Scotland line again on 47 minutes as Henderson bulldozed his way forward but this time Hamish Watson was there to rip the ball and keep the hosts at bay.
It was then Scotland’s turn to go close, with Kyle Steyn kicking through for Stuart Hogg only for the visitors’ captain to be denied by a brilliant covering tackle from Hugo Keenan.
After Schoeman was cleared for a potential foul play in the build-up, Ireland were able to see off the danger and clear their lines before going back in search of the tries they needed.
More scrappy play from Scotland provided Ireland with an opportunity to build from the scrum, only for Matt Fagerson to come to the visitors’ rescue with a couple of turnovers.
Ireland just kept on coming, however, and their pressure eventually told on the hour as Gibson-Park slipped the ball to Van der Flier to run over from 5m out, with Sexton converting.
Going into the final quarter, Ireland were aware of just how important one more try could potentially be and the home side continued to look for the bonus-point score.
The pressure from the hosts was relentless and Scotland buckled on 78 minutes, with replacement Ben White sent to the bin for a deliberate knock on.
Sexton kicked to the corner and from the lineout, Murray received the ball, spun away from two tacklers and dived over the whitewash – much to the delight of the Aviva Stadium.
The conversion was missed but that mattered not as Ireland secured their 12th Triple Crown and ensured the title would be decided in the final match of the 2022 Championship in a thrilling conclusion to Super Saturday.