Ireland comfortably won their opening Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday, taking their time to get going before beating Scotland 28-6 as they look to put last year’s poor campaign firmly behind them.
Ireland, who last season endured their worst Six Nations in 14 years, showed signs of the rugby that brought them so close to beating New Zealand in November last year with tries from Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Jamie Heaslip easing them home.
“We learned a lot in the November series and if we can make this place a bit of a fortress, we can go places,” said Heaslip, who took over as captain after illness ruled Paul O’Connell out of the game shortly before kickoff. “It was tough losing Paulie this morning, he’s an unbelievable leader, but we’ve got some great leaders in the team and we played with a lot of passion today.”
Having watched their side come within 30 seconds of toppling the world champions last time out, the home crowd were hoping for more of the same, but witnessed a disappointingly flat performance for much of the first half.
After weathering early pressure and a missed penalty from Greig Laidlaw, Ireland took the lead on 14 minutes through a Johnny Sexton penalty, before Laidlaw knocked over his second kick at goal to level the scores.
Sexton quickly restored the three-point advantage, but Scotland, despite lacking any sort of cutting edge with ball in hand, continued to wrestle back the initiative, frustrating the hosts until just before the break when Sexton provided the spark Ireland needed.
The Racing Metro flyhalf made a fantastic break from inside his own half, weaving past the Scotland defense, before finding Heaslip with a pinpoint long pass to put the big No. 8 into a footrace for the corner.
Heaslip was correctly adjudged to have put a foot in touch before placing the ball down, but Ireland stole a lineout and had their try a minute later through Trimble.
For the Ulster winger, who has been in and out of the national team for years, his 13th international try was a particularly sweet one, having been overlooked during last year’s championship due to Ireland’s strength in the position.
Joe Schmidt’s side refused to let an early second-half penalty from Laidlaw kill their momentum and they had a second try minutes later when their forwards rumbled over from a lineout to give Heaslip his score.
Sexton added the conversion and tagged on another penalty after more relentless pressure from the hosts, for whom record tryscorer Brian O’Driscoll became the country’s most-capped player with his 129th cap.
Scotland, who beat Ireland last year but have not won their opening match since 2006, had no answer and Ireland fullback Kearney, with equal parts power and finesse, marked his 50th appearance with the game’s third try 10 minutes from time.
Ireland next meet holders Wales, while Scotland host England. Italy travel to France on Sunday.