Ireland piled maximum pressure on England ahead of the defending Six Nations champions’ clash with France by collecting a bonus point in their 28-8 victory over Scotland.
Joe Schmidt’s men knew a haul of five points from the match in Dublin would leave Eddie Jones’ side needing to achieve the same in Paris later on Saturday to set up a St Patrick’s Day decider at Twickenham next weekend.
And the hosts ran in four tries in Dublin to put themselves firmly in the box seat for Six Nations glory.
Jacob Stockdale crossed twice in the first half to become the first Irishman to score six tries in a single campaign, before Conor Murray added a third after the interval.
Sean Cronin’s fourth could be decisive and means England need to score at least four tries in winning in the day’s late kick-off.
Scotland’s shock win at Murrayfield last weekend is to thank for the precarious status of England’s title defence, but their away struggles continued in Dublin. Scotland have won only two matches outside Edinburgh or Rome since the championship expanded to six teams in 2000.
from !@IrishRugby are heading to Twickenham for a tilt at a Grand Slam in Round !
— NatWest 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 10, 2018
Ireland adopted a positive approach from kick-off and, after putting Scotland under early pressure, opted to kick a penalty for touch rather than settle for three points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton.
That decision bore no fruit and Scotland punished their hosts with their first real foray into the Irish half after 12 minutes, when Greig Laidlaw knocked over from the tee for the first points of the match.
As the odd loose pass crept into the Irish game, Scotland demonstrated the extent of their handling skills in a bright period of play for Gregor Townsend’s men.
However, it was an ambitious attempted pass from Peter Horne that led to the opening try, with Stockdale making the interception to give himself a clear run for the line.
Sexton’s conversion opened up a 7-3 lead after 24 minutes but Scotland should have been back in front soon after when Huw Jones fluffed his lines by misplacing a pass to Stuart Hogg with the full-back virtually guaranteed to touch down if the delivery was better.
Scotland’s determination to play the first half at a frantic pace came with frustratingly little reward and, after Bundee Aki was held up on the line, Stockdale stepped inside Blair Kinghorn to stretch the Irish advantage to 11 points on the stroke of half-time – his 10th try in eight Tests.
6 – @JacobStockdale is the first @IrishRugby player to score 6 tries in a 5/6 Nations campaign, he is the fourth player from any nation to score 6 in @SixNationsRugby tournament (since Italy joined in 2000). Unstoppable. pic.twitter.com/9Y9qMaC29Q
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) March 10, 2018
Having rued an inspired Scottish display at Murrayfield last weekend, English fans will have been praying for a second-half recovery but had to watch through their fingers as Murray was dragged over the line to edge Ireland closer to the all-important bonus point.
Scotland again failed to take a chance when it was presented after 50 minutes, the pass from Hogg played too high for Kinghorn, who did touch down in the corner moments later, although Laidlaw was unable to add the extras.
Another missed Sexton penalty raised questions over Ireland’s decision to go for the posts rather than touch with 15 minutes left, but replacement Cronin crossed after a driving maul to further focus English minds in Paris and keep their Grand Slam hopes alive.
Key Opta stats:
– Ireland are unbeaten in their last 14 home games in the Six Nations (W12, D2), before that run they had never gone more than seven such matches in the Five or Six Nations without defeat.
– Overall Ireland have won their last 11 Test matches, a new record for them.
– Scotland have won away to Ireland just once in the Six Nations (L9), a 23-20 victory at Croke Park in 2010; since that win Scotland have lost 17 of their 19 away games in the Championship, with their only victories coming against Italy (2014 and 2016).
– Since the 2015 Rugby World Cup Conor Murray has scored nine Test tries (including one for the Lions), two more than any other Tier 1 scrum-half. (TJ Perenara – seven).
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