x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Nervy Ireland on course for title

Ireland stayed on course for the Grand Slam after surviving a torrid match to beat Scotland 22-15 in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Ireland's Ronan O'Gara strikes a drop goal against Scotland. O'Gara became the tournament's most prolific points scorer at Murrayfield.
Ireland's Ronan O'Gara strikes a drop goal against Scotland. O'Gara became the tournament's most prolific points scorer at Murrayfield.

EDINBURGH // Ireland stayed on course for the Grand Slam after surviving a torrid match to beat Scotland 22-15 in the Six Nations on Saturday. Ireland trailed 12-9 at the break against a powerful Scotland side showing unexpected flair in the backs, but the visitors improved in the second period and got the crucial score when Jamie Heaslip touched down in the 51st minute. After rallying from a half-time deficit for the first time in nine years, Ireland go into next week's match at Wales knowing it is almost certainly the title decider.

"The performance was very average but it's all about next weekend," said the fly-half Ronan O'Gara, who kicked 17 points to become the tournament's all-time leading scorer. The second-placed Welsh won 20-15 at Italy despite having trailed for much of the match, although France could also be in contention for the title if they win at England. Having thrown away chances for a Grand Slam in recent seasons, Ireland's players appeared to be getting increasingly nervous as they approach the final round and the possibility of a first sweep since 1948.

Convincing wins over France and Italy were followed by a disappointingly slim 14-13 win over England two weeks ago and Ireland stuttered again at Murrayfield. "We knew it was going to be tough coming over here, every Test match is, especially away from home," Ireland's coach Declan Kidney said. "There was a lot of pressure and expectation." Heaslip, though, put Ireland ahead for the first time and his team never let go of the advantage. The scrum-half Peter Stringer, one of four changes to the team that beat England, darted through the defence and flipped a one-handed pass behind him for Heaslip to collect and go over. O'Gara's conversion helped him on his way to a tally that established a new Five/Six Nations record of 492, putting him ahead of Jonny Wilkinson.

The Ireland fly-half hit a quickly taken drop goal to calm his team and rounded off the scoring with his fourth penalty, but he was overshadowed by Chris Paterson in the first half. The Scotland fullback, recalled after sitting out the first three rounds, struck four times to put the home side 12-9 ahead at half-time. But Scotland could have led by more. Just before the interval, the winger Thom Evans raced on to collect his own kick downfield and managed to slip the ball to Phil Godman in the tackle, but the fly-half was bundled out just short of the line by Brian O'Driscoll. The victory took Ireland, the only unbeaten side in the tournament, to eight points from four matches, two more than Wales. Only a big win for the Welsh is likely to deny Ireland the title. Ireland have not won the competition since 1985 and completed its only perfect season back in 1948.

*AP