After a bruising and unexpected defeat to England in Dublin last week, Ireland belatedly got the defense of its Six Nations title underway with a hard fought 22-13 win over Scotland at Murrayfield.
Notoriously slow starters in recent years, Ireland had to cope with the loss of talismanic fly-half Johnny Sexton through a first half head injury in Edinburgh.
But the pre-tournament favorites displayed plenty of the impressive form and toughness that has seen them rise to No. 2 in the rugby world rankings as they eventually got the better of the hosts.
The reliable boot of Greig Laidlaw gave Scotland an early lead in blustery conditions, although the advantage was not to last long.
Conor Murray was the beneficiary of confusion in the Scottish defense as he scored the first try of the game, crossing the whitewash after Sean Maitland was unable to get hold of Tommy Seymour’s pass.
Scotland then suffered an injury setback of its own when influential full back Stuart Hogg was forced off the field with what appeared to be a shoulder injury after 16 minutes.
Within seconds, Ireland had stretched its advantage as Jacob Stockdale burst through the Scottish defense to score under the posts.
Sam Johnson cut the deficit after Finn Russell broke free and brilliantly picked out his teammate to score.
And with Sexton forced off the field, with what looked like a nasty head knock, the Scots looked to turn the scoreboard in their favor.
Ireland’s defense held firm, however, despite coming under severe pressure to make it to half time 12-10 ahead.
The last time Scotland claimed the Six Nations title Bill Clinton was US President and the millennium bug was a threat. There were also only five teams involved in the tournament.
Rapid progress under the tutelage of coach Gregor Townsend in recent years and an impressive victory over Italy last week had raised hopes this could be their year.
But Scottish dreams took dent early in the second period as Sexton’s replacement, Joey Carbery, broke two tackles and carried the ball 20 yards before feeding Keith Earls to finish.
Scotland narrowed the gap thanks to a Laidlaw penalty.
But it was Ireland who would round off the scoring as Carbery kicked three points of his own to ensure victory.
Wales too good for Italy
Wales defeated Italy 26-15 in Rome in Saturday’s late game to move top of the Six Nations table and back up last weekend’s dramatic victory against France in Paris.
The win was Wales’$2 11th in succession, equaling their best ever run which was set way back in 1910.
Four first half penalties from Dan Biggar had Wales 12-7 in front at half time despite Braam Steyn’s converted try for Italy.
Any thoughts of an Italy comeback were quickly extinguished, however, with tries from Josh Adams and Owen Watkin in the second period.
Edoardo Padovani crossed for a late consolation try for the home side.
Wales will now look to rack up a record 12th consecutive victory in Cardiff next weekend but will face a tougher opponent in the shape of England.