Ireland kept ahead in a furious finish to Sunday’s RBS 6 Nations clash at Murrayfield, with tries from Jamie Heaslip, Eoin Reddan and Ronan O’Gara providing the platform for a deserved win.
Ronan O’Gara marked his first start in this year’s Championship with a man-of-the-match display, converting first half tries from Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan and adding the extras to his own 53rd minute effort.
That gave Ireland a 21-9 lead with just over 20 minutes remaining, but Scotland staged a gutsy revival with Chris Paterson kicking two penalties and replacement Dan Parks nudging over a drop goal.
They camped in the Irish half for much of a tense final quarter, however Declan Kidney’s men managed to hold on thanks to a well-marshalled defence.
As they did against France, Ireland got off to a confident start and broke through for an early try. The game was only six minutes’ old when a close range lineout set up a short series of ruck before Rory Best, who sucked in two defenders, passed for Heaslip to score by the posts.
O’Gara landed the conversion but Scotland replied with a penalty from Paterson following some hard running in the approach play.
Paterson had taken over the place-kicking duties from Ruaridh Jackson, who missed an earlier long range shot at goal, and the Scots were rewarded with a second successful penalty in the 18th minute.
They were costly penalties for Ireland but as the Scots closed the gap down to the minimum, and then O’Gara missed a difficult kick from the left.
Referee Nigel Owens needed to intervene at a series of a scrums on the halfway line but Scotland soon turned the ball over after being awarded a penalty.
O’Gara got Ireland firing again with an excellent kick to touch and pressure from the forwards set up a five-metre scrum for the visitors.
The Scots were shoved backwards and Heaslip peeled free before Reddan ripped the ball from his arms and scampered over unchallenged from just metres out. It was the scrum half’s first senior try for Ireland.
Scotland, who had fought back with conviction from their early deficit, were reeling at having conceded so easily once more, with O’Gara’s conversion rubbing salt into the wound.
The defence buckled again when Ireland renewed their assault but O’Gara was penalised close to the line for not releasing after good carries from Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien.
Sean Lamont, who slotted in at inside centre, executed a try-saving tackle on Keith Earls to end a first half dominated by the men in green. But Paterson’s third penalty cut the gap to 14-9 at half-time.
Scotland’s problems deepened when prop Allan Jacobsen was sent to the sin-bin after a binding offence at a scrum near halfway.
A forward pass prevented O’Brien from capitalising on Reddan’s break but the barnstorming Leinster back rower was soon back on the charge.
Two rampaging runs from O’Brien swept Ireland into the 22, the second sending tacklers flying like skittles, only for an infringement at the breakdown to kill the move just metres from the Scottish whitewash.
It was only a matter of time before the third try arrived, however, and in the 53rd minute O’Gara handed off Ross Ford and round in behind the posts after Healy had made inroads into the home defence.
O’Gara converted before Paterson slashed the deficit to 21-15 with two penalties as the home side threatened a fightback.
Their tails up, Scotland attacked with belief with winger Max Evans proving to be their most potent threat. A drop goal from Parks, when the Scots had a penalty advantage, made it 21-18. Pressure from the Irish defence forced wwo knock ons to halt Scotland’s momentum.
Andy Robinson’s side had not given up hope but Ireland kept their discipline and maintained their three-point advantage, with Paul O’Connell and replacements Sean Cronin and Peter Stringer making some vital plays.
Speaking afterwards, head coach Declan Kidney said: “We have been a bit stop-start by our own standards, but barring one or two decisions by everyone involved in the French game we could be in an extremely positive place.
“We are progressing and we’re building experience. We are quite a different unit to what we were two years ago because there are quite a number of changes in the squad.
“So, I think we’re progressing without shouting form the roof tops that we are there yet. We have quite a bit to do.”