Ireland set up a possible RBS 6 Nations championship decider against England next Saturday as five penalties from the boot of out-half Ronan O'Gara saw them edge past Scotland in their rain-dampened duel at Lansdowne Road.
RBS 6 NATIONS: Saturday, March 11
IRELAND 15 SCOTLAND 9, Lansdowne Road (Att: 49,500)
Scorers: Ireland: Pens: Ronan O'Gara 5
Scotland: Pens: Chris Paterson 3
Eddie O'Sullivan's side, the only team left in the hunt for a Triple Crown and championship double, fittingly won as the last 6 Nations fixture was played out at the old Lansdowne Road. It was Ireland's 252nd international at the world-renowned Dublin 4 ground, and despite the drizzly conditions, the script was carried off to a tee. All that was missing was a try, but O'Gara swept over five out of seven penalty attempts to give Lansdowne a happy send-off, ironically 128 years to the day of its first-staged international - Ireland v England, March 11, 1878.
Saturday's game took on an old world look as O'Gara and Scotland winger Chris Paterson took part in a virtual penalty shoot-out to determine the winners. It was the powerful Irish pack who garnered more chances for their kicker - O'Gara landed four penalties from five attempts in the first half to hand Ireland a 12-9 lead at the interval. Paterson notched three from three.
O'Gara had the only two scoring opportunities of a second half controlled by the home side - he struck a 56th-minute penalty through the uprights and narrowly failed with an injury-time effort, but thoughts by then were already turning to next weekend's mouth-watering trip to Twickenham.
Crucially, Ireland, playing against the wind, opened well and got their best start of the championship. Shane Horgan and Malcolm O'Kelly both went close to the Scottish lineduring a frantic first two minutes of action and with the Scots offside, O'Gara mopped up with a successful penalty.
The Munster man added a second on 10 minutes, but obstruction by O'Kelly at the restart allowed Paterson to get the visitors off the mark at 6-3. Geordan Murphy was the guilty party on 17 minutes when he deliberately knocked on at a ruck and Paterson sent the resultant place kick through the posts from 28 metres.
Ireland looked the more dangerous with ball in hand though, and after Murphy had entered the line to good effect, O'Gara - who had just pushed another effort wide - kicked them back in front on 24 minutes.
The nip and tuck nature continued with Paterson replying after a fine counter attack from the hosts. A Dan Parks kick through had the hosts scuttling back behind their line but full-back Murphy did well to gathered in possession ahead of the lurking Sean Lamont.
A Scottish infringement at the breakdown on 37 minutes allowed O'Gara to slot his fourth kick for a 12-9 half-time lead. The failure of the Scottish lineout to function was one of their key downfalls and Ireland took advantage of this to dominate territorially in the second half.
Nine minutes in and the hosts should have had a first try to toast their championship farewell to Lansdowne. A rolling maul saw the Irish rumble into the visitors' 22 and they looked to have an overlap out on the left, but Murphy's low-slung pass gave Andrew Trimble little chance of making the corner and Hugo Southwell did well to bundle the Ulster youngster into touch.
It was all Ireland at this stage. One highlight for the Scots was a trademark bone-crunching tackle by captain Jason White on Irish hooker Jerry Flannery, but in attack, there were only crumbs of possession for the Sale flanker's charges. They seemed a little flat after last weekend's Calcutta Cup heroics, but credit where credit is due, Ireland were right on top of their game.
Sensing this, coach Frank Hadden brought on a new half-back pairing in Chris Cusiter and Gordon Ross - hooker Scott Lawson replaced the misfiring Dougie Hall. But a first win in Dublin for the Scots since 1998 never looked on the cards despite the tight score line.
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, who once more, got through an amount of work in defence and attack, and his team mates can haul their tired bodies in front of a television set for Sunday's France v England clash, safe in the knowledge that with their Twickenham date kicking off at 5.30pm next Saturday, they will know exactly what they must do to secure the country's first championship title since 1985 and first since the Five Nations went all "Sixy." Twickers on Paddy's weekend - let the mass exodus begin...
TIME LINE: 3 minutes - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 3-0; 10 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 6-0; 11 mins - Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson - 6-3; 17 mins - Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson - 6-6; 19 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Ronan O'Gara - 6-6; 24 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 9-6; 28 mins - Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson - 9-9; 37 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 12-9; Half-time - Ireland 12 Scotland 9; 56 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 15-9; 81 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Ronan O'Gara - 15-9; Full-time - Ireland 15 Scotland 9
IRELAND: Geordan Murphy; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Malcolm O'Kelly, Paul O'Connell, Simon Easterby, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements used: Donncha O'Callaghan for O'Connell (66 mins). Not used: Rory Best, Simon Best, Mick O'Driscoll, Eoin Reddan, David Humphreys, Girvan Dempsey.
SCOTLAND: Hugo Southwell; Chris Paterson, Marcus Di Rollo, Andrew Henderson, Sean Lamont; Dan Parks, Mike Blair; Gavin Kerr, Dougie Hall, Bruce Douglas, Nathan Hines, Scott Murray, Jason White (capt), Allister Hogg, Simon Taylor.
Replacements used: Craig Smith for Douglas (57-63, blood sub; 71), Chris Cusiter for Blair, Gordon Ross for Blair (both 58 mins), Scott Lawson for Hall (62), Simon Webster for Paterson (69), Jon Petrie for White (72, blood sub). Not used: Alastair Kellock.
RBS 6 Nations Man of the match: Paul O'Connell (Ireland)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)