Ireland's Tadhg Beirne is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring his side's second try against Scotland at BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh Pictrure: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile
Ireland secured their second win of their 2021 Six Nations campaign when they just edged Scotland in a game where they were 14 points up at one stage in the second half.
It was all down to Johnny Sexton, who was imperious from the tee and nailed the crucial penalty wide on the left to secure Ireland a three point victory, 24-27.
Ireland’s forwards were brilliant on the day, dismantling the Scottish lineout, getting on top at scrum time and coming out on top at the breakdown.
However, Ireland's back play is still a worry. There seems to be a severe lack of clarity in what the Irish back line are trying to do, they are caught between two stools of playing what is in front of them and playing a patterned territorial game, where the boot is put to ball as a first resort. That makes it 10 wins for Ireland out of their last 11 matches versus Scotland.
However, the performance alone will probably not be enough to beat an England side, who have had Ireland's number in recent exchanges and who came out with a morale boosting victory in ‘Le Crunch’ on the weekend past.
Wales, as expected, thrashed a hapless Italy side, who’s place in the Six Nations championship must now be in serious question.
It is pretty certain that not even the most ardent Welsh supporter would have put much money on Wales being the team going into the last weekend (the Scotland v France match has been refixed for the end of the month) who could win the Grand Slam.
Wayne Pivac was definitely under the most pressure coming into this Championship, after his first year in charge, which was pretty disastrous results wise. Now he can bring his charges led by the ever-green Alan Wynne Jones to the Stade de France on Saturday, with every hope of securing the slam with very little pressure. However, this young rapidly improving French side is a very tough prospect, especially at home and I would expect Wales to come up short in Paris.
The Pro 14 continued over the weekend. The main talking point was that Joey Carberry started for Munster for the first time in well over a year and looked to be getting back in the groove, where he made a great break and set up a try versus the Scarlets.
An end of season tour would be the ideal time to integrate him back into the Ireland set up but Covid looks likely to put paid to that.
Munster and Leinster have already booked their place in the Pro-14 final, with the season truncated in order to squeeze in the inaugural ‘Rainbow Cup’ with the four top South African teams; the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers and Pro-14 teams taking part, which kicks off in April. Although it is still very difficult to see how it will take place, with 14 day mandatory quarantine now in place for people travelling from South Africa.
So, for Connacht, their main goal was to secure Champions Cup rugby for next season, which despite losing to Edinburgh in the wind and rain on Saturday, they accomplished thanks to other results going their way.
Overall, the good news is that all the Irish provinces will be in the draw for next season’s Champions Cup. However, for now the focus turns to last weekend proper of the Six Nations to see if Ireland can turn the recent tide against England and if Wales can secure the slam. PS put your house on Scotland hammering Italy.
Ireland Player Ratings
1 Cian Healy 6: Came back in ahead of Dave Kilcoyne and justified his place in getting the upper hand in the scrum and participating in a great collective pack effort.
2 Rob Herring 6: Darts were on the money. However, a hooker needs to offer more than that against England, where the decision to start Kelleher has to be made.
3 Tadhg Furlong 7: Working his way back to his best, his side-stepping exit from the 22 will have props worldwide dreaming of similar endeavours.
4 James Ryan 7: Great defensive performance in the lineout and efficient around the pitch, probably booked his ticket on the Lions tour with Gatland watching on.
5 Ian Henderson 8: Led from the front with a great performance all around the pitch. Since coming back into the team, he is stepping up as the player everyone always hoped he would become.
6 Tadhg Beirne 8: Another great performance from the Kildare man with Longford connections and another ‘Man of the Match’ award.
7 Will Connors 8: You could hear the crunch in some of his hits. A big part of a back row that edged the Scottish unit that destroyed England in Twickenham on the opening day of the Championship.
8 CJ Stander 7: As always, gave his all on his 50th appearance for Ireland. Goes down the dark alleys where others will not venture but heading down there is not always the best option.
9 Jamison Gibson Parke 6: A performance that will split supporters. Seemed to take the wrong option too much, his passing at times was poor and his box kicking was made look great by the superb kick chase rather than by his execution.
10 Johnny Sexton 8: A great all round game, especially slotting the last difficult penalty to seal the win. Looks in great shape at the moment and is enjoying his rugby.
11 James Lowe 4: I for one could not wait for the Kiwi to get in an Ireland jersey for what he brings in attack but unfortunately, he has become a defensive liability costing Ireland tries in all matches so far and needs to go off on work on that part of this game before returning to a green jersey again.
12 Robbie Henshaw 8.1: The Athlone man is operating at the peak of his powers both defensively and in attack and was my Man of the Match. Sure to have impressed the watching Gatland.
13 Garry Ringrose 5.5: Uncharacteristically poor performance from a player who is normally one of Ireland's best performers. A natural runner with the ball who needs to be told to go and look for space instead of trying to kick through.
14 Keith Earls 7: A great battling performance from the man from Moyross who just signed a new IRFU contract, superb kick chasing, defence and looked for the ball in attack.
15 Hugo Keenan 7: Reliability personified under the high ball, did not get a chance in the attacking line, probably should have done better in conjunction with Lowe for Huw Jones try.
The Bench: Kelleher showed what he can do around the pitch and why he should start against England, Baird made the match winning charge down of Ali Price. Curious why Conor Murray was not brought on got the last 15 minutes when Ireland desperately needed control at the base.
Management: Paul O’Connell and John Fogarty take a bow, Simon Easterby will be wondering why Ireland stood off Scotland in the last 15 minutes, the backs are probably still wondering like the rest of us what Mike Catt wants. Overall, a good day for Andy Farrell as winning was most important and it sets up a great battle with England, win that and the glass is definitely half full.
Saturday, March 20: Ireland v England 4.45pm