Keith Earls helps Ireland rally to defeat Scotland in Autumn Nations Cup

Keith Earls helps Ireland rally to defeat Scotland in Autumn Nations Cup

Ireland roused themselves after a soporific start to claim third place in the Autumn Nations Cup and emulate where they finished in the Six Nations. They struggled initially against Scotland’s expansive approach but took control after Duncan Taylor received a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.

Scotland trailed 11-9 at half-time despite making most of the running. Inspired by Stuart Hogg, who seemed intent from the start on single-handedly demolishing the argument that rugby had become boring, they tested Ireland with powerful running and passing in contact.

But for unforced errors and indiscipline, which has been a blight on their autumn campaign, they would have had more than three penalties from their debut outside-half Jaco van der Walt who overcame early handling mistakes to bring Taylor and Hogg into play.

Ireland were initially sluggish, their ploy of testing Hogg with centrally placed kicks backfiring when he ran one out of his 22 and took play into the Ireland half. They missed 17 tackles and were fortunate to only be down 9-3 after 25 minutes.

The match turned on the half-hour when Ireland mustered their first threatening attack through Peter O’Mahony on the right wing. They had worked an overlap on the left when Taylor stuck out his right arm to deflect Bundee Aki’s pass and found himself in the sin-bin.

Johnny Sexton converted the resulting penalty and after opting for a line-out after Scotland had infringed again, his switch-kick to the line after the referee had signalled he was playing advantage was palmed back by Robbie Henshaw and the ball bounced kindly for Keith Earls and away from Ali Price.

Taylor had only just returned in the early minutes of the second half when Hogg knocked on in his 22 as he tried to pick up a rolling Sexton kick. Ireland set up a series of drives from the resulting scrum and after Caelan Doris had stormed the gainline, Cian Healy forced himself over the line.

Ireland were now at their most purposeful and after Sexton opted to kick another penalty into touch, O’Mahony’s pass gave Earls, who had become the second highest try scorer in Ireland’s history after Brian O’Driscoll, the room to score his second try and make it 25-9 to the hosts who had only lost at the Aviva Stadium once in four years.

Duhan van der Merwe scored a try out of nothing after picking the ball up from the base of the ruck, fending off Rob Herring and running 40 metres to score, but the momentum was with Ireland and two penalties, one from Sexton and the second from his replacement Ross Byrne, sealed an ultimately comfortable victory.