Ireland edge past Scotland with last-gasp penalty in entertaining Murrayfield encounter

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Richard Bath
·29 min read
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Scotland v Ireland, Six Nations 2021: live score and latest updates - GETTY IMAGES
Scotland v Ireland, Six Nations 2021: live score and latest updates - GETTY IMAGES
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Coulda, woulda, shoulda. With the rub of the green Scotland could be challenging for the Six Nations title, but for a second match in succession they came off second best and lost a winnable Murrayfield match at the death. Unlike their loss to Wales, this time it was the Scots who were under the cosh but came from behind, yet the outcome remained the same.

There was much to laud in the way Gregor Townsend's men fought back from 24-10 down in the second half, scoring tries on the hour and with just six minutes to go to draw back to 24-24.

Yet the propensity to give away crucial penalties at the worst possible time was once again in evidence when scrum-half Ali Price was charged down and gave away a penalty in his own 22 with less than five minutes on the clock. Johnny Sexton's penalty – his fifth of the afternoon – gave Ireland their sixth successive win over Scotland.

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“As much as I, the players and the supporters are down about this, there is still a lot to be proud of,” said defiant Scotland coach Gregor Townsend. “In two games in a row they have come back and created opportunities to at least draw. We wanted to move Ireland around but we didn’t get the set-piece ball to threaten them and had to rely on counter-attack ball or restarts or turnovers.”

Such slim pickings were never going to be enough against a brutally efficient Ireland side, leaving Scotland to rue this loss every bit as much as their one-point defeat by Wales, if for different reasons. While the Scots excelled in attack, breaking 22 tackles to Ireland's six, they were hamstrung by a succession of penalties at crucial points, 14 largely breakdown-related turnovers and an unmitigated horror-show at the lineout.

Possession is key against Ireland, but at the lineout Scotland were targeted by Ireland's forwards, who won an incredible six of Scotland's eight throw-ins. Nor was this simply about field position, with the majority of Ireland's first half points coming directly from lineout steals.

The visitors' first try was a case in point. Sexton had already got Ireland off the mark when Finn Russell killed the ball at a ruck under Scotland's posts when a lineout steal allowed the outstanding Sexton to kick crossfield for Keith Earl. Stuart Hogg and Chris Harris rose to contest the ball, only for the ball to fall for Robbie Henshaw for the try.

Russell registered Scotland's first points when referee Romain Poite pinged Ireland for hands in the ruck before some sharp opportunism saw the Scots take the lead on the half-hour. CJ Stander had turned over Scotland, Hogg charged down Garry Ringrose's telegraphed clearing kick, hacking on, with Russell beating Will Connors and James Lowe to touch down, the conversion giving Scotland a 10-8 lead.

Another lineout steal gave Ireland a route back into the game, Sexton kicking to the out of position Duhan van der Merwe, the wing holding on as he was engulfed. Russell missed a long-range penalty after Irish crossing at their own lineout, but when Ali Price strayed offside on the stroke of half-time, Sexton kicked the visitors to a 14-10 half-time lead.

If the lineout was Scotland's Achilles' heel in the first half, after the break their breakdown work was their undoing. First Hamish Watson and then Jamie Ritchie gave away penalties, Sexton kicking to the corner and Ireland's forwards muscling Tadhg Beirne over.

Once French referees decide who's in the wrong, there's no changing their mind, and with Scotland identified as the villains of the piece, another ruck penalty allowed Sexton to extend Ireland's lead to 24-10.

An injection of fresh players was to prove crucial, Hogg coming into the line with real intent and feeding Huw Jones, the outside centre smashing through attempted tackles by Lowe, Hugo Keenan, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ringrose to go over moments after coming on.

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With Russell off having an HIA assessment, Hogg kicked the conversion. Scotland's resources were stretched so thin that scrum-half Scott Steele had to come on for second row Scott Cummings, but with Hogg now adding some urgency from stand-off, the Scots were in full cry with ten minutes remaining.

A series of penalties on Ireland's line saw the Scots go into full Cowan-Dickie mode, tapping and charging in what felt like the game's definitive passage. Eventually the ball was spun wide to Van der Merwe, who was snagged by Connors but was so close it felt like he could reach out and touch down. Instead the ball was moved infield, Watson finally forcing his way over and Hogg adding the extras to bring Scotland back on level terms.

Yet no sooner had Scotland dragged themselves back into this game than they threw it away when Price dallied on a clearing box-kick in his own 22 with five minutes to go and was charged down by Ryan Baird. The scrum-half regathered only to be swamped and penalised for holding on, Sexton kicking the penalty to register Ireland's tenth win over Scotland in their last eleven meetings. For the second match in succession, it was the cruellest of ways to lose.

Townsend's men didn't always help themselves though, and when they finally won a ruck penalty Russell went for the corner only to kick it dead. Yet the injection of fresh players and added urgency was to prove crucial, Hogg coming into the line with real intent and feeding Huw Jones, the outside centre smashing through attempted tackles by James Lowe, Hugo Keenan, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ringrose to go over moments after coming on.

With Russell heading off for a HIA assessment, Hogg kicked the conversion to make it 24-17 and moved to stand-off. Scotland's resources were stretched so thin that scrum-half Scott Steele had to come on for second row Scott Cummings, but with Hogg now acting as playmaker and ten minutes left, the Scots were in full cry.

A series of penalties on Ireland's line saw the Scots go into full Cowan-Dickie mode, tapping and charging in what felt like the game's definitive passage. Eventually the ball was spun wide to Van der Merwe, who was snagged by Connors but was so close it felt like he could reach out and touch down. Instead the ball was moved infield, Watson finally forcing his way over and Hogg adding the extras to bring Scotland back on level terms.

Yet no sooner had Scotland dragged themselves back into this game than they threw it away when Price dallied on a clearing box-kick in his own 22 with five minutes to go and was charged down by Ryan Baird. The scrum-half regathered only to be penalised for holding on, Sexton kicking the penalty to give Ireland a hard-fought win. For the second match in succession, it was the cruellest of ways to lose.

Scoring sequence: pen Sexton 0-3; try Henshaw 0-8; pen Russell 3-8; try Russell 8-8; Russell con 10-8; pen Sexton 10-11; pen Sexton 10-14; try Beirne 10-19; con Sexton 10-21; pen Sexton 10-24; try Jones 15-24; con Hogg 17-20; try Watson 22-24; con Hogg 24-24; poen Sexton 24-27.

Scotland: S Hogg (capt); S Maitland, C Harris (H Jones, 55), S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell (D Graham, 63), A Price; R Sutherland (J Bhatti, 65), G Turner (D Cherry, 63), W Nel (S Berghan, 55), S Cummings (S Steele, 66), J Gray (G Gilchrist, 55), J Ritchie (N Haining, 62), H Watson, M Fagerson.

Ireland: H Keenan; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe (J Larmour, 67); J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; C Healy (D Kilcoyne, 55), R Herring (R Kelleher, 63), T Furlong (A Porter, 55), I Henderson, J Ryan (R Baird, 71), T Beirne (J Conan, 63), W Connors, CJ Stander.

05:05 PM

Ireland hero Beirne speaks...

"It was a bit strange (to play in). We felt like we had control but Scotland just managed to keep in there and to come down to that last play was huge strength from the lads. I was in the stands for it so I was obviously crossing my fingers and hoping the lads could pull it off and I should never have doubted them. Getting a win here today was massive for us in terms of going forward."

04:53 PM

FULL TIME: Scotland 24-27 Ireland

Scotland have the ball - they're keeping the ball alive. But they knock on and Ireland win by three points.

That was proper Test rugby - it was close and a wonderful spectacle.

04:50 PM

77 mins: Scotland 24-27 Ireland

Keith Earls is brilliant in taking a high ball - that retains possession for Ireland with just over two minutes left. The teams exchange kicks and Scotland now have the ball - can they get the vital score?

04:48 PM

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

Penalty for Ireland Scotland penalised for not releasing. That's the 11th penalty the hosts have conceded.

Sexton decides to kick for goal. It's just outside the 22 from the left-hand side of the pitch - he fades one just in.

Three minutes to go and it's now 27-24 to Ireland.

04:46 PM

TRY FOR SCOTLAND!

Watson wasn't held up and the TMO awards the try. That was great strength and dexterity from the Scotland man.

Scotland had to get something after that period of pressure - Ireland defended well but it's five points for the hosts, which becomes seven when Hogg kicks the extras.

It's now 24 all.

04:44 PM

72 mins: Scotland 17-24 Ireland

Penalty for Scotland, they kick for touch. From the lineout Scotland soin it wide, Poite is playing advantage, it's a good opportunity for the hosts, Hogg tries the crossfield kick, it goes long so they go back to the penalty.

They tap and go - trying to barge over from close range. The Irish are offside and it's another penalty for the Scots.

They again tap and go - the forwards doing the hard yards, then are less than a metre from the line, great defence from Ireland. It's moving wide but still not over the line - Ireland are defending for their lives, Watson goes over but was he held up?

04:37 PM

67 mins: Scotland 17-24 Ireland

A big Scotland scrum sets up an attack - van der Merwe is bundled into touch by Henshaw, that was a good hit.

From the lineout Scotland win the ball - the throw wasn't straight.

04:35 PM

Try machine

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04:33 PM

64 mins: Scotland 17-24 Ireland

Ireland on the attack - the Scotland defence is organised and keeping them at bay. The Irish spun it wide and Lowe ends up passing it straight out.

The game is entering a nervy period...

04:30 PM

62 mins: Scotland 17-24 Ireland

Russell is off for a head injury assessment - Darcy Graham is on, Hogg moves to fly-half and Maitland goes to full-back.

04:29 PM

Knife through butter

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04:27 PM

61 mins: Scotland 17-24 Ireland

Lowe should have done better but it was still a good finish by the sub Jones.

04:26 PM

TRY FOR SCOTLAND!

Just what they needed.

Scotland tap and go in the middle of the pitch. They run it wide to the right and it comes to Jones (just on) via the hands of Hogg, Gilchrist and Russell and Jones beats Lowe and goes over the whitewash.

Hogg adds the conversion and it's now Scotland 17-14 Ireland.

04:24 PM

57 mins: Scotland 10-21 Ireland

Changes for Scotland - Huw Jones replaces Chris Harris, Grant Gilchrist comes on for Jonny Gray and Simon Berghan is on for WP Nel.

04:23 PM

57 mins: Scotland 10-21 Ireland

Unforced error from Russell as he kicks straight into touch from a penalty - they needed an attacking platform and that would have set them up nicely - assuming they had won their lineout...

04:18 PM

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

Penalty for Ireland - Ritchie not rolling away - it's hard for the Scot but a clear infringement.

Sexton kicks the three points in front of the posts, some 25 yards out, and it's now 24-10 to Ireland.

04:16 PM

50 mins: Scotland 10-21 Ireland

Good start to the half from the visitors. Scotland's lineout is still not working and they are struggling to create any attacking platform.

04:13 PM

TRY FOR IRELAND!

Ireland win anther penalty with Scotland penalised for not releasing.

Sexton kicks for the corner. From the lineout Ireland set up a driving maul. There's another penalty for the Irish for jumping across the line. Again they kick for the corner, they are using the heavy lifters to bash holes in the midfield and they think they have a try - Beirne crashing over from close range.

Sexton kicks the extras and it's now 21-10 to Ireland.

04:07 PM

44 mins: Scotland 10-14 Ireland

Scotland have a lineout just outside the Ireland 22 and AGAIN they lose it. They need to sort that out or you cannot see them winning this match.

04:07 PM

42 mins: Scotland 10-14 Ireland

The hosts are penalised at the breakdown for coming in at the side - Henderson did brilliantly for Ireland.

From the resulting lineout Ireland run the ball, Russell puts in a big tackle, it comes back to Ireland and this time it's Scotland who win the battle of the breakdown.

04:04 PM

40 mins: Scotland 10-14 Ireland

We're back under way and you suspect Ireland will look to kick more and get some structure back into the match. They'll be more direct and keep it tight.

Scotland, you suspect, will hope to keep it unstructured, spread the ball wide and look for moments of inspiration from Russell or Hogg to get a head and then go on and win the match.

04:03 PM

Furlong's dancing feet

I never knew he had it in him...

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03:55 PM

Finn Russell's try

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03:53 PM

Good omen for Ireland

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03:51 PM

HALF TIME: Scotland 10-14 Ireland

That kick was the last action of the first 40 minutes.

It's been open, exciting but still tight as illustrated with the scoreline.

Russell is his usual bag of tricks and the match has been unstructured to say the least. Because of the that it's hard to say what to expect in the second half.

03:49 PM

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

Scotland are offside at the ruck and it's frustrating for the hosts but an easy decision for Romaine Poite.

Sexton slots home the three points and it's 14-10 to Ireland.

03:46 PM

38 mins: Scotland 10-11 Ireland

Russell again tries one of his short crossfield kicks that van der Merwe nearly gets on the end of. His kicking from hand is impressive and that was close.

03:44 PM

36 mins: Scotland 10-11 Ireland

From a lineout Beirne is penalised for blocking - it's a clear infringement and Russell decides to kick for goal. The Scotland No.10 pushes his attempt for the three points wide right and it stays 11-10.

03:40 PM

PENALTY TO IRELAND!

Scotland cannot get their lineout working and they lose another one off their own throw. That sets up an Ireland attack and they win a penalty after a fine kick chase from Kieth Earls.

Sexton kicks the three points from 30 yards out on the right - it's now 11-10 to Ireland.

03:36 PM

30 mins: Scotland 10-8 Ireland

There's no real structure to the game and that is helping Scotland. They are using the full width of the pitch finding some easy metres out wide.

03:34 PM

TRY FOR SCOTLAND!

Russell goes over the line for a try BUT it looks as though there was at least one knock on the build up which saw both Hogg and Russell juggle the ball on the run as they struggled to control the ball with the Ireland defence backpedalling. Hogg's kick forward finds his fly-half and he touches down.

It goes to the TMO who sees what we do which is the ball came off Hoggs chin so the try is awarded!

Russell adds the two points and it's now 10-8 to Scotland.

03:31 PM

26 mins: Scotland 3-8 Ireland

The game is opening up at the moment - some players out there will have burning lungs.

03:30 PM

24 mins: Scotland 3-8 Ireland

Russell plays a lovely shallow dink kick for Maitland to run on to. Scotland then shift the ball wide to the left, they're stretching the Ireland defence but then there's a knock on and the attack comes to nothing.

03:27 PM

22 mins: Scotland 3-8 Ireland

Great hands from the Ireland forward in the midfield sets up Sexton running at pace but his pass doesn't find its target thanks to a great Hogg tackle and Russell can kick deep into Ireland territory. Great momentum shift there.

03:25 PM

Ireland's try

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03:25 PM

20 mins: Scotland 3-8 Ireland

From the resulting attacking lineout the Irish set up a driving maul, then spin it out but it's great Scottish defence and Ireland are penalised for holding on.

That will be huge for the hosts from a mindset point of view - Ireland have dominated the past four minutes and will have nothing to show for it.

03:23 PM

17 mins: Scotland 3-8 Ireland

Scotland are penalised for collapsing the scrum. Sexton misses touch but it comes back to the Irish nonetheless.

The visitors are trying to bash holes in the Scotland defence and Keenan ultimately kicks to touch. Ireland then win the lineout and win a penalty - a Scot was offside. Sexton kicks for touch.

03:19 PM

15 mins: Scotland 3-8 Ireland

After that opening Scotland are doing well, Ireland aren't kicking as much as you'd expect and this is turning into the tight battle some thought it would do.

03:17 PM

13 mins: Scotland 3-8 Ireland

Ringrose knocks on and it's advantage to Scotland. Hogg passes to Russell and the Scotland No.10 runs at the Ireland defence - it's clear what he wants to do - before knocking on himself.

03:15 PM

PENALTY TO SCOTLAND!

Scotland put Ireland under pressure - moving the ball left and right. Furlong gives away a penalty for not moving away quick enough.

Good signs for the hosts from their first period of possession,

Russell slots home the three points.

It's 8-3 to Ireland

03:11 PM

TRY FOR IRELAND!

Sexton tests Hogg with a big up and under - it comes forward - advantage is played and Sexton then plays a crossfield kick which the Scottish defence again fail to deal with and Henshaw pounces to score in the right corner.

Sexton misses the conversion but it's been a fantastic start by the Irish.

Ireland lead 8-0

03:08 PM

5 mins: Scotland 0-3 Ireland

Scotland concede another penalty - this time in the middle of the park - Beirne and Sexton working well together and it's a great start by Ireland.

The ball comes out to Lowe, on the left wing, who tests Maitland on the outside and that's well defended.

03:05 PM

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

From the lineout Ireland attack in the midfield - running the ball wide. Lowe beats his man on the left and it's a good attacking platform for the visitors. They're under the posts just five yards out. They have a penalty advantage - it doesn't come and Sexton kicks the three points.

That was impressive from Ireland, they stretched the Scotland defence and the hosts will be happy to only be three points down.

03:02 PM

1 min: Scotland 0-0 Ireland

We're under way in Edinburgh.

Scotland receive the ball and Russell is happy to kick for touch.

02:59 PM

The national anthems have been sung

Two rousing renditions belted out at an empty Murrayfield - the players giving more gusto with their dulcet tones in the absence of fans in the ground?

Let's hope they've still got enough energy to play...

02:56 PM

Finn Russell vs Johnny Sexton for a Lions starting spot?

At the start of the year the consensus was probably that the Russell would come off the bench to mix things up in the second half. But the Scotland fly-half has recently showed more balance in his game and now is probably in the box seat for the Lions starting spot at 10. He’s a magician, the best passer in world rugby and his battle today against Sexton - a clash of styles as much as anything else - will be great to watch.

Finn Russell
Finn Russell

02:49 PM

Landmark cap for Ireland's carrying machine

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02:48 PM

Gregor Townsend speaks...

On the inconvenience of the postponed France game…

“It’s nothing more than what people across society have faced. Time moves quickly in sport and we’ve got a big game today.”

On whether there will be a bit of rust in the side…

“The players have trained well this week - we’re fresh rather than rusty.”

On what Scotland need to do today…

“All 15 have to deliver close to their best performance. We have to handle the kicking and transition well.”

02:43 PM

These sides last faced each other in the Autumn Nations Cup

Ireland won 31-16 - it was a dominant performance from Farrell's side with the Irish back row imperious. Ireland's loose forwards made three times the number of metres made by their Scottish counterparts.

How Scotland's back row reacts to that result - and the manner of it - will determine today's match.

02:39 PM

Andy Farrell speaks...

On the results not reflecting how well Ireland are playing…

“We’re progressing, we see it every day, it has to translate on the field that’s where it matters.”

On facing Scotland at Murrayfield…

“It’s tough place to come but we’re in good shape.”

On the threat Scotland pose…

“They’re well coaching under Gregor, they have a threatening, attacking game,…but like any Test match these matches are won up front and we’re happy with what we have in the changing room.”

02:35 PM

The battle of the lineout kings

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02:32 PM

Ireland team news

Ireland XV to face Scotland: H Keenan; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; C Healy, R Herring, T Furlong, I Henderson, J Ryan, T Beirne, W Connors, CJ Stander. Replacements: R Kelleher, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, R Baird, J Conan, C Murray, B Burns, J Larmour.

Andy Farrell has made three changes from the XV that impressively beat Italy. Winger Keith Earls is in for Jordan Larmour with Cian Healy and Rob Herring in for Dave Kilcoyne and Ronan Kelleher in the front row.

On the bench No.9 Conor Murray's comes in after injury.

02:28 PM

A reminder that Scotland can still win the title...

While only Wales can win the Grand Slam there is still an outside chance Scotland could clinch the championship.

If they win today then beat Italy and France (whenever the Covid-hit fixture is rearranged) then they could lift the trophy if France beat the Welsh in Paris next Saturday.

It’s an outside shot, but Scotland are in with a shout nonetheless.

02:23 PM

There are a host of reasons why Ireland want to impress this afternoon

For Johnny Sexton one of them is the hope of a place in the British and Irish Lions squad this summer. The Irish No. 10 says Ireland's players will spend the rest of the Six Nations playing for their place in the squad to face South Africa.

Sexton is one player who is not guaranteed a place on the plane (wherever it may fly to...) So who are the runners and riders in the Ireland side hoping to become Lions this year? Here's Tom Cary on Ireland's Lions hopefuls.

Johnny Sexton 
Johnny Sexton

02:14 PM

Here is the Scotland side

Scotland XV to face Ireland: S Hogg (capt); S Maitland, C Harris, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price; R Sutherland, G Turner, W Nel, S Cummings, J Gray, J Ritchie, H Watson, M Fagerson.

Replacements: D Cherry, J Bhatti, S Berghan, G Gilchrist, N Haining, S Steele, H Jones, D Graham.

No room for Sam Skinner but the hosts will be hoping their exciting backline can move up the gears today and pose questions of the Ireland defence.

02:12 PM

No joy for Sam Skinner

Scotland called up a number of new faces for their third Six Nations fixture - among them is Sam Skinner.

He hasn't made the matchday 22 but the Exeter man is desperate to cement his place in the national side having made his debut back in 2018. His ability to cover the back row and second row has made him a useful man to have available. However, injuries – forced him to miss the World Cup and his international career has been stop-start as a result.

Here's Richard Bath on the forward's Scotland hopes.

READ HERE: Sam Skinner desperate to take Scotland opportunity after impressing for Exeter

Sam Skinner 
Sam Skinner

01:47 PM

Why do Scotland always fall short against Ireland?

Away wins against England and Wales, regular wins over France and clear blue water between the Scots and the Azzurri are rightly hailed as proof of progress on Scotland’s part, as are stellar defensive stats that confound their image as the leakiest of ships. But for coach Gregor Townsend to prove his side are more than also-rans with big dreams, Scotland need to start beating an Ireland side that has defeated them five times in succession.

Ireland’s recent record against Scotland is superior to that of any other Six Nations side. Scotland have lost just one of their last four Calcutta Cup meetings, have won four of their last eight matches with France and beaten Italy nine times in succession. Only Wales, who Scotland have beaten just three times since 2003, rival Ireland as hammers of the Scots.

Given where Scotland and Ireland stood when rugby turned professional in 1995, the last 25 years has seen a startling divergence between two rugby nations with so much in common. During Townsend’s playing days, they both had four provinces or districts, the same lack of playing numbers, and virtually non-existent crowds outside the internationals. Test results went in cycles, with Ireland winning 18 of 20 games between 1935-59, while in 15 meetings from 1986 to the last year of the Five Nations in 1999, Ireland won just one game.

Fast forward to today and the similarities have been replaced by differences. Ireland still have four provinces to Scotland’s two clubs, and by the end of this season – one in which Ireland’s provinces have won all 12 games against Scotland opposition - the Irish sides will have won 13 Pro14 titles to Scotland’s one. Irish provinces have won the European Champions Cup seven times to Scotland’s none. In terms of playing numbers, Lions representation, age-grade success and finances – indeed by any objective yardstick – Scotland are now the poor relations.

That imbalance has been particularly stark at Test level. Scotland have won just once in the last ten meetings between the two countries, with an average scoreline of 29-10 suggesting the matches haven’t even been close. The majority of Scotland and Ireland players meet regularly in the Pro14, where familiarity has taught the Irish that they have the capacity to win games against the Scots simply by their forwards keeping the ball, playing for territory and outmuscling the Scots, a winning formula they have successfully transferred to the international arena.

Not only is this as frustrating for Townsend as it was for Vern Cotter before him, but Scotland’s inability to compete with Ireland has a wider significance given that the two nations have been drawn in the same pool at the 2023 World Cup, where they are joined by world champions South Africa. This is not a good outcome for Scotland, whose last World Cup campaign got off to a horrific start when they conceded two tries in the first 15 minutes en route to a 27-3 defeat by Ireland in Yokohama, an emphatic and traumatic loss from which Scotland are still recovering.

The humiliation of premature ejection from the World Cup prompted Townsend to completely change the way Scotland approach Test matches. Defence coach Steve Tandy was drafted in with the express intention of making Scotland harder to beat, while Townsend’s tactics and selections have elevated the importance of defensive solidity over try-scoring potential, leading to a record low level of points conceded in last year’s Six Nations. Yet still Scotland lost in Dublin in December; nor, at 31-16, was it particularly close.

Stopping the run of defeats at Irish hands is now an imperative, although there are good reasons (other than simply playing at Murrayfield) to believe that Scotland will be far more competitive than on their recent trip to Dublin. Behind the scrum, they are much strengthened by the return of Finn Russell in place of Jaco van der Walt, wing Sean Maitland’s return introduces a safe pair of hands, while Sam Johnson coming in at inside centre for Duncan Taylor – who lacked match sharpness in Dublin and whose yellow card marked a momentum swing away from Scotland – introduces another player of consistent quality.

Up front, Zander Fagerson’s loss is a huge blow and 35-year-old tighthead WP Nel’s ability to withstand Cian Healey will be crucial. But on the credit side, the return of openside Hamish Watson increases Scotland’s scope for turnovers against a side which relies on front foot possession. After a red and yellow card in the last three games, Scotland desperately need to maintain their discipline, but if their back row can play as they did at Twickenham then Townsend’s men have it within them to prevail.

Although Andy Farrell’s Ireland are not the force they were under Schmidt, they have had the whiphand over Scotland for so long that there are signs of an underlying lack of respect for the Scots. Captain Stuart Hogg was mocked by, amongst others, former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan, who called Hogg’s contention that Scotland “are on the right track” as “delusional”. As Scotland take to the field on Sunday, they will know there is only one way to nip that in the bud and that the ends justify the means.

Richard Bath

Team news: Scotland (v Ireland, Sunday, Murrayfield, 3pm): S Hogg (capt); S Maitland, C Harris, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price; R Sutherland, G Turner, W Nel, S Cummings, J Gray, J Ritchie, H Watson, M Fagerson.

Replacements: D Cherry, J Bhatti, S Berghan, G Gilchrist, N Haining, S Steele, H Jones, D Graham.

Ireland: H Keenan; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; C Healy, R Herring, T Furlong, I Henderson, J Ryan, T Beirne, W Connors, CJ Stander.

Replacements: R Kelleher, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, R Baird, J Conan, C Murray, B Burns, J Larmour.