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Ireland are back-to-back Six Nations champions for third time in history after nervy win over Scotland



Ireland win the Six Nations title yet again, lifting the trophy following their win over Scotland in Dublin. Video: Reuters

Ireland 17 Scotland 13

In the end, all was all right on the night. The capacity Aviva crowd, who had generated the best atmosphere here for a year and particularly so in Ireland’s many times of need, revived memories of French World Cup invasions by singing along to Zombie. Ireland were back-to-back Six Nations champions for only the third time in history, emulating the class of 1949 and 2015.

True, a week after a shot at successive Grand Slams was denied them, this title was not exactly sealed in the grandest of manners. And perhaps this was not unconnected.

Accordingly, there was nothing like the same euphoria which greeted the St Patrick’s Day Grand Slam coronation in what would prove to be Johnny Sexton’s last game in an Irish jersey on Irish soil. That was a fitting way to bow out, and if it comes to pass that this is Peter O’Mahony’s last game in green, then equally it was entirely fitting that he too should mark it by lifting the Six Nations trophy.

Reports of his impending retirement are premature but it could also well come to pass.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, when asked by Virgin Media’s Tommy Martin immediately afterwards. “I’ve a few chats to have with family over the next few weeks. If it was my last one it’s not a bad one to go out on.”

The bottom line is that Ireland are worthy champions for the second year running, and have actually been even more dominant than the previous back-to-back champions, having lost just one match out of ten in the last two campaigns. And check out Ireland’s points difference compared to the rest.

There’s a tour top South Africa and a huge Autumn Series between now and next season, but Ireland can now target the first outright three-peat in Championship history.

In truth, after perhaps nursing a post-Twickenham hangover in the first period, they found a way, with a much-improved second-half display, making more use of their potent maul, carrying with more intent and directness, and dominating territory until a scare at the end

Ireland once again lost the normally indestructible Hugo Keenan with a hip injury in the warm-up, meaning Jordan Larmour was promoted to the starting line-up. Having bridged a long period away from Test rugby in the last quarter against Italy in round two, Larmour was thus propelled into his first Test start since July 2021, and his first at fullback since the last game before the pandemic in the defeat at Twickenham in February 2020.

Nonetheless, the absence of Keenan could hardly account for the unexceptional first half. Ireland seemed almost to be going through the motions of playing their game, and playing too much of it in front of a Scottish defence which was, to be truthful, very comfortable.

They kept just two in the backfield and flooded the pitch, maintaining the links and spaces in the chain to prevent any line breaks, and had the sharper line speed when defending in Ireland’s faces. Ireland had some good launch plays, often bringing their wingers up the middle and on to the ball at the last second, but thereafter the home side did not really go anywhere. When Ireland were not too lateral, they tried inside passes aplenty, but these were well read by the Scottish defenders.

Ireland’s clearing out at the breakdown also lacked its customary accuracy and urgency to generate the kind of quick ball they needed for this brand of short passing rugby. They needed, instead, to impose their maul, use some pick-and-goes and a largely ignored blindside, and build a lead to earn the right to play their rugby.

The relatively flat atmosphere tallied with the flatness of the performance, and was not helped by the pedantic refereeing of Matthew Carling didn’t help, nor the interminable scrum resets, although thankfully there were only three in the first half. Basically, it was the repetition of green running into a blue wall which was the cause of it all.

Carley’s first penalty, against Lowe for “crawling” when he had slipped rather than been tackled, set the tone as Finn Russell opened the scoring with a well struck 45-metre penalty.

Ireland had a fortunate reprieve, when Lowe’s attempted clearance was charged down by the excellent Andy Christie but the ball drifted over the touchline and Dan Sheahan led a counter charge when Scotland turned a tap penalty.

Sheehan having been tackled into touch off a blindside move when Ireland went to the corner, McCarthy coming around the front to link with the hooker than going to their maul, Ireland had another lucky break.

Scotland shortened their lineout, but George Turner’s throw went over Grant Gilchrist straight to Sheehan, who gathered and ploughed through Ben White to score.

On another day, a more fluid and accurate day, Ireland would have added to their lead but two sustained Irish attacks were again met with strong Scottish defensive sets and culminated in Jack Crowley inadvertently finding touch-in-goal twice with grubbers.

Instead a second Russell penalty left it 7-6 at the break.

Inspired by a trademark James Lowe surge when bouncing two defenders and offloading out of a third tackle, Ireland pounded the Scottish line for much of the second half but the men in blue held firm, if not helping themselves with unforced mistakes, such as Russell’s restart going out on the full after another Crowley penalty.

Ireland pounded the Scottish line for much of the second half but the men in blue held firm, if not helping themselves with unforced mistakes, such as Russell’s restart going out on the full after another Crowley penalty.

Tadhg Furling looked to have rewarded more sustained attacks with a close-range finish through Christie’s tackled, but Carley and co decreed that Zander Fagerson had just dislodged the ball before it was grounded.

Ireland turned to their bench, the introduction of Finlay Bealham after Furlong went off for an HIA doing little to depower their dominant scrum, which ratcheted up the heat.

The crowds launched into chants of “Ire-land” and repeated renditions of The Fields, before Henshaw was also denied a touchdown by Cameron Redpath’s brilliant tackle after an astonishing low catch by O’Mahony from a Caelan Doris offload.

But the repeated offences in the build-up did lead to Ewan Ashman being binned and Ireland turned this numerical advantage into a crunch score from an ensuing and clever tap penalty variation.

Rónan Kelleher, who like Ryan Baird again had a big impact off the bench, tapped and set off, but pulled the ball back without looking for Andrew Porter to plough through Jack Dempsey’s tackle for the critical second try.

Just as well too, as Scotland had a final flourish after Harry Byrne was sinbinned for an upright head-on-head hit on Russell which, lacking force, was not upgraded by the bunker review.

Huw Jones stepped and wriggled through a tiring Henshaw, Doris and Josh van der Flier, leaving Lowe a sitting duck as the last man. Suddenly it was a three-point game and Scotland threatened to spoil the party, but after one final knock-on and one final scrum, Lowe kicked the ball dead.

Cue a trophy presentation, which the vast majority stayed for, if not for the lap of honour. But this brilliant Irish team are champions again.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 8 mins: Russell pen, 0-3; 13: Sheehan try, Crowley con, 7-3; 18: Russell pen, 7-6; (half-time 7-6); 43: Crowley pen, 10-6; 65: Porter try, Crowley con, 17-6; 77: Jones try, Russell con, 17-13.

IRELAND: Jordan Larmour (Leinster); Calvin Nash (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster, captain), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Furlong (52 mins), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster) for Sheehan, Ryan Baird (Leinster) (both 56), Garry Ringrose (Leinster) for Nash (57), Jack Conan (Leinster) for O’Mahony (65), Cian Healy (Leinster) for Porter, Harry Byrne (Leinster) for Larmour (both 68), Conor Murray (Munster) for Gibson-Park (70).

Sinbinned: Byrne (75 mins).

SCOTLAND: Blair Kinghorn (Toulouse); Kyle Steyn (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Stafford McDowall (Glasgow), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh); Finn Russell (Bath, co-capt), Ben White (Toulon); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow); Andy Christie (Saracens), Rory Darge (Glasgow, co-capt), Jack Dempsey (Glasgow).

Replacements: Ewan Ashman (Edinburgh) for Turner, Rory Sutherland (Oyonnax) for Schoeman (both 49 mins), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow) for Darge, George Horne (Glasgow) for White, Cameron Redpath (Bath) for McDowall (all 62), Kyle Rowe (Glasgow) for Kinghorn (67), Turner for Christie (68), Javan Sebastian (Edinburgh) for Fagerson (71), Sam Skinner (Edinburgh) for Cummings (72).

Sinbinned: Ashman (66 mins).

Referee: Matthew Carley (Eng).

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