Ireland 28 Scotland 6
Ireland overcame the late withdrawal of captain Paul O'Connell to beat Scotland 28-6 in their Six Nations opener at Lansdowne Road today.
O'Connell picked up a chest infection on Saturday night, but the hugely influential lock wasn't missed for once as his replacement, Dan Tuohy, helped mince up the Scotland lineout in the first half and stand-in skipper Jamie Heaslip led by example with a try and high workrate.
Ireland bridged halftime with tries by winger Andrew Trimble and Heaslip, and Jonathan Sexton added 13 points to overtake Michael Kiernan and become his country's third highest point-scorer in tests. Fullback Rob Kearney, marking his 50th cap, added a late try when the result was already in Ireland's grasp.
Without O'Connell, Sean O'Brien and Gordon D'Arcy, three big contributors in the heart-breaking loss to New Zealand in the last outing in November, there was enough doubt about Ireland's ability and mindset to achieve another good start in the last Six Nations for Brian O'Driscoll.
But the doubts proved unnecessary, as Ireland had enough class and nous for a Scotland still lacking a killer touch, and won its tournament opener for the 10th time in the last 11 years.
Even so, Heaslip said coach Joe Schmidt tore into them after the game, saying they needed "huge improvements.''
The trouble with Ireland is finishing what it starts, unlike its next opponent, Wales, a slow Six Nations starter but fast finisher. The defending champion comes to Dublin next Saturday.
"Massive, massive challenge coming,'' Kearney said. "We have to recover really well now. We've only got six days, they've had an extra day. They're going for three championships in a row, so we're under no illusions.''
Heaslip and Schmidt said they were shocked to discover O'Connell became ill overnight, hardly slept, and saw a doctor at 4:30 a.m.
Schmidt said he expected O'Connell, plus D'Arcy, to be available for the Wales game.
"It's a relief to me that we've got through the game and got a win on the board,'' he said.
Scotland coach Scott Johnson rued his side's naivety.
"We may have to go to some dark places and bring some torches,'' Johnson said. "There's a naivety there that we'll overcome by having some time in the saddle. They don't understand they are doing the hard bits quite easily, but it's the finishing off.''
Scotland began the match by doing what it does best, holding the ball. The Scots worked 11 phases into the Ireland 22 until they were harshly penalized for holding too long. Then Greig Laidlaw's long-range penalty hit the left upright.
Sexton and Laidlaw swapped penalties, and Ireland ended up leading 6-3 into the second quarter.
Not until the last 10 minutes did the heart-rate rise. No. 8 David Denton came closest to a Scotland try when he burst blindside off a ruck 10 meters out and was trying to reach out to the line when he was bowled into touch by scrumhalf Conor Murray and flanker Peter O'Mahony.
As Ireland loosened Scotland's pressure winning four Scottish throw-ins helped Scots and Lions winger Sean Maitland landed awkwardly on his right ankle from jumping for an up and under and limped off with concussion.
Sexton put the pressure back on Scotland by carving past tackles in midfield, and gave Heaslip a shot in the left corner, but the No. 8 stepped over the sideline just before he touched down.
Ireland failed twice from five-meter lineouts with seconds to go and Scotland's defense looked like holding, but quick rucks helped Ireland find Scotland short on the right wing, where Kearney gave Trimble the overlap to score for an 11-3 halftime lead.
"That gave us a little bit of breathing space,'' Kearney said.
Soon after the restart, Laidlaw cut the deficit to five, but Ireland put the game away in the 47th when Tuohy's lineout take was mauled by Ireland and Heaslip scored too easily. Sexton converted for 18-6 and added a third penalty before the hour.
Ireland controlled possession throughout the half, and inevitably notched a third try to Kearney, who exploited a tiring defense when he slipped off replacement Alasdair Dickinson and dragged flanker Ryan Wilson to the tryline nine minutes from time.
Scotland hosts England next Sunday.