6N: Scots fall to Ireland again to drop out of title race

EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Scotland fell to its bogey team Ireland again 27-24 on Sunday in an empty Murrayfield and left Wales and France to play for the Six Nations title.

The Scots needed to beat the Irish for the first time in four years to stay in the title hunt but couldn’t live with Ireland’s power and street smarts, and made too many errors. Scotland left itself too much to overcome even though it came back from 24-10 down after an hour to 24-24 with four minutes to go.

But Ireland restarted play with a deep kickoff, and Scotland scrumhalf Ali Price was charged down by replacement lock Ryan Baird who also covered him up to earn a penalty. Captain Jonathan Sexton lined up the 39-meter kick from the left touchline and brilliantly slotted it for another match-winner.

“The fight, the will … to get across the line at Murrayfield was outstanding in the end,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell said.

“For them to get the seven points to draw the game, it would take down a few teams mentally. (Ireland) stayed together … they stayed next-moment-focused. We got the turnover and big players, they take responsibility. Jonny put over the points.”

Sexton talked during the week about British and Irish Lions places being on the line, and Ireland’s maestro shaded Scotland maverick Finn Russell, who left with concussion near the end. Sexton yet again was a difference maker as Ireland scored two tries to three but the captain had a superb allround game and nailed six of his seven goalkicks.

The win was Ireland’s 18th in 22 matchups with Scotland in the Six Nations era and gives it a chance to finish the tournament with top-half respectability after its worst start since 1998. It welcomes England next week.

Scotland, for all of its impressive improvement, will rue a continued lack of smarts. After an historic win over England at Twickenham on the opening weekend, the Scots have lost both of their home games. To come, they have Italy and the postponed match against France, which could yet be a title decider. But it will all become moot if Wales at least draws with France in Paris next weekend and claims the trophy.

“Twickenham set the bar and for 32, 33 minutes against Wales the following week we played as well as Twickenham, in some aspects we played better,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said. “But we’ve not been consistent over the 80-minute period, against Wales and today.

“Every game is different, you’ve got a different opposition, a referee who has a different interpretation, so you’ve got to adapt.”

Scotland should have been left for dead in the first quarter as Ireland made a storming start. It had three try chances and took only one. James Ryan stole a Scotland throw-in, a Sexton bomb was muffed by Stuart Hogg, and then a Sexton crosskick to the in-goal saw Keith Earls jump for the ball with Hogg and Chris Harris, and all miss. But a trailing Robbie Henshaw had an easy picking.

By the end of a dominant quarter, as brief misty rain dampened an already soft turf, Ireland led only 8-3.

It came to haunt them when Scotland produced an opportunist try started by a Hogg chargedown and finished by Russell, who converted his first try since the 2019 Rugby World Cup to lead 10-8.

But Scotland’s errors caught up with them, and Sexton kicked two penalties for a deserved halftime lead of 14-10.

The messy nature of the game favored Scotland, which was being bullied in the lineouts and breakdowns. But Ireland stayed tight, kept the pressure on, and enjoyed another cracking start to a half.

Flanker Tadhg Beirne barged over beside the posts and referee Romain Poite practically put his head into the ruck to confirm the try. Sexton converted and added a fourth penalty after a nine-phase buildup to lead 24-10.

The Scotland backs remained dangerous, though. Huw Jones, who’d been on the field for three minutes, blasted through weak tackles and scored. Hogg converted and moved to flyhalf because Russell was off for a head knock. Locks Scott Cummings and Jonny Gray were also off hurt.

The Scotland forwards still flexed some muscle by laying siege to the tryline. It took 14 phases to break Ireland’s magnificent stand when flanker Hamish Watson twisted out of tackles by Sexton, Iain Henderson and Andrew Porter to score. Hogg converted for 24-24 but the comeback was killed by one final error and Sexton, who was cramping.

“Little bit lucky, to be honest,” Sexton said. “Wasn’t my best strike of the day — my best strike hit the post — but got there thankfully.”

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