DUBLIN — The Grand Slam is on for Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. Spicing it up a little more, Ireland go to Twickenham next weekend holding the Six Nations trophy surrendered by upcoming host England.
The Irish stayed undefeated by dispatching Scotland 28-8 with a four-tries bonus point at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
They then watched England’s attempt to stay in the race collapse with a second straight loss, to France 22-16 in Paris.
The championship is Ireland’s third in five years.
But the bigger prize would be beating England next Saturday for Ireland to earn only a third Grand Slam, beside those in 1948 and 2009.
“We’re going to have to save the best for last, and that’s what it’s going to take to win everything next week,” Ireland captain Rory Best said.
“Everyone knows the size of the challenge. They haven’t lost at Twickenham under Eddie Jones.”
Scotland upended England last time out but that was at Murrayfield. With an awful record away from home, the Scots’ own championship bid was almost inevitably squashed by an Irish side which owns the visitors in Dublin, where Scotland has won only once in 20 years. Scotland had its chances but wasn’t as accurate, and butchered two tries, probably three.
By the time winger Blair Kinghorn claimed Scotland’s sole try, Ireland had three, two to wing Jacob Stockdale.
The bonus-point fourth try came with 11 minutes to go, when hooker Sean Cronin, only three minutes after replacing Best, dived over from the back of a rolling maul.
Ireland made its bonus-point intentions known after only four minutes, when flyhalf maestro Jonathan Sexton waived off a penalty goalkick to set up a lineout. However, the throw-in wasn’t caught. Against the run of play, the Scots took the first points from a Greig Laidlaw penalty.
Scotland managed to get hands on the ball and looked threatening until Peter Horne threw a wayward pass between center partner Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg straight to Stockdale. The wing took the gift 55 meters untouched to the posts with the usual Sexton conversion.
Scotland bore more gifts for the hosts. An attack from deep saw a Jones chip and catch and Hogg inside him with only the posts ahead. Jones drew last-man Sexton but passed too far in front of Hogg.
Back came Ireland right on halftime. A nice flick-on by center Garry Ringrose, playing only his second match this year, freed fullback Rob Kearney. From the resulting scrum, Ringrose doubled round Bundee Aki, and Stockdale stepped opposite Kinghorn to score his second try of the match, and a leading sixth in the championship.
Sexton’s conversion gave Ireland a 14-3 lead into the break and breathing room.
Scotland missed 13 tackles in the first half, and looked outclassed after the new half began and an Irish lineout drive to the try-line finished with scrumhalf Conor Murray barging over with a push from Aki. At 21-3, Ireland was cruising.
But Scotland didn’t think it was over. Another attack foundered when Hogg threw too high for Kinghorn, but Kinghorn scored on his debut start moments later when all seven Scottish backs lined up to the right from an attacking scrum, and executed a great two-wave move to put Kinghorn into the right corner.
The Scots, 21-8 behind, should have had another try moments later when Horne slipped through a big gap. Jones was beside him and Kinghorn further out but Horne threw to the wrong man – Kinghorn – and over the sideline. That was Scotland’s last gift.
Ireland went all out for the fourth try. Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, and the front row were replaced.
“We’ve a lot of big leaders,” Best said. “At times when we were under pressure today and they were trying to play chaotic rugby, we were able to get a breath back and get control through the spine of our team.”
Scotland captain John Barclay conceded a penalty in his half but Sexton, again, kicked for touch rather than the posts. The throw-in was caught, the ball was mauled, and Cronin dove over.
Sexton converted, and Irish fans started singing.
“We are three or four years behind Ireland in terms of what they’ve done and achieved over the last few years,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said.
“We need to make sure that when we have these experiences that are tough, it goes into our work to improve. We play Ireland next year in the Six Nations and we will play them in 18 months at the World Cup and we need to make sure we are a better team when we play them.”