Ireland 31-16 Scotland: Hosts finish third in Autumn Nations Cup

By Michael MorrowBBC Sport NI
Keith Earls
Keith Earls is now out on his own in second on Ireland's all-time try-scorers list with 32
Autumn Nations Cup: Ireland v Scotland
Ireland (11) 31
Tries: Earls 2, Healy Cons: Sexton 2 Pens: Sexton 2, Byrne 2
Scotland (9) 16
Try: Van der Merwe Con: Van der Walt Pens: Van der Walt 3

Ireland scored three tries to see off a strong Scotland challenge with a solid second half showing and claim third place in the Autumn Nations Cup.

Keith Earls' 38th-minute try gave the hosts a half-time lead after Scotland had dominated the opening half.

Two quick scores after the break from Earls and Cian Healy put Ireland further ahead before Duhan van der Merwe replied for the visitors.

Ross Byrne's late penalties secured an important win for Andy Farrell's side.

The victory comes on the back of two disappointing performances and while the display in Dublin was far from perfect, Farrell will take satisfaction from the way his side navigated their way past a Scotland team brimming with confidence.

As for Scotland, they will rue Duncan Taylor's 31st-minute yellow card having controlled the opening half-hour in Dublin, but can remain confident they are a side very much on an upward curve.

The game ends the most peculiar of autumn international campaigns for the sides, who will hope for a return to a more familiar schedule when the 2021 Six Nations begins.

Ireland weather first half Scottish storm

Ireland were fortunate to have the lead at the interval as the hosts were on back foot for most of a first half that belonged to Scotland in all but scoreline.

The visitors matched ferocity with accuracy in equal measure in a free-flowing display that might have yielded more than nine points were it not for a couple of costly Jaco van der Walt knock-ons in Irish territory.

Handling errors aside, the fly-half enjoyed a promising international debut, sharing the load at first receiver with Stuart Hogg to inject variety into Scotland's high-tempo attack.

Van der Walt kicked three penalties in the first 25 minutes, with another long-range effort coming back off the post, to give his side a deserving lead.

Jaco van der Walt
Jaco van der Walt delivered a decent showing on his international debut

In contrast, the shortcomings familiar to Ireland's recent performances came to the fore again in the opening 40 minutes.

A struggling set-piece and attack that ended more often than not with an uncontested kick threatened to derail yet another display, but this time Ireland managed to recapture their composure and build some momentum late in the half.

Their cause was aided by the sin-binning of Taylor for a deliberate knock-on, allowing Ireland to go for the jugular in the final nine minutes of the half.

The breakthrough came in the 38th minute when, playing with an advantage, Sexton's kick was knocked backwards as Robbie Henshaw and Darcy Graham contested the high ball, allowing Earls to ground his 31st international try, moving the Munster wing beyond Tommy Bowe as Ireland's second all-time leading try-scorer.

Improved hosts come out firing

After last week's poor performance against Georgia, Farrell lamented his side's lack of aggression in collisions and hitting rucks.

Coming out after the break with the game in the balance, the head coach will have been delighted by the pugnacity shown by his side in extending their advantage with two tries inside 10 minutes.

First Healy drove over after several phases of Ireland's forwards taking the ball round the corner, before Earls slid in at the corner having been released by the quick hands of Peter O'Mahony.

Caelan Doris has established himself as one of Ireland's most destructive ball carriers during the autumn internationals

A costly 10-minute spell either side of half-time ultimately ruined Scotland's hopes of victory, but they rediscovered their intensity after falling 16 points behind and fought back through Van der Merwe, whose quick thinking at a ruck saw the wing cut through a hole to sail over the line.

The momentum had swung again and with Ireland defending inside their own 22, their forwards drew a penalty to ease the pressure and take the wind out of Scotland's sails.

Replacement fly-half Byrne twice opted to go for the posts late on to make sure of the win, as Ireland navigated the final stages on their terms to seal a satisfying and much-needed victory.

Ireland: Stockdale; Keenan, Henshaw, Aki, Earls; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Herring, Porter; Henderson, James Ryan; Stander, O'Mahony, Doris.

Replacements: Kelleher, O'Sullivan, John Ryan, Roux, van der Flier, Gibson Park, R Byrne, Farrell.

Scotland: Hogg, Graham, Harris, Taylor, Van der Merwe; Van der Walt, Price; Sutherland, Brown, Z Fagerson; Cummings, Gray; Thomson, Ritchie, M Fagerson.

Replacements: Turner, Kebble, Nel, Skinner, Cowan, Hidalgo-Clyne, Jones, Maitland.

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