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Ireland hang tough to retain Six Nations title


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The victory ensured the post-Johnny Sexton era began with silverware

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland spluttered but did enough to beat Scotland 17-13 at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday and clinch back-to-back Six Nations titles for the second time in 11 years to put last year’s World Cup disappointment behind them.

After England denied them a bid for successive Grand Slams last week, a sluggish Ireland looked at risk of relinquishing their grip on the title and giving the English something to play for in Paris after eking out an unconvincing 7-6 halftime lead.

Andy Farrell’s men showed far more intent straight after the break, however, pushing hard until Andrew Porter’s 65th-minute try put daylight between the sides, only for a late Huw Jones try and an Irish yellow card to set up a nervy finish.

The victory kept Ireland clear of second-placed England, eased the disappointment of another crushing World Cup quarter-final defeat and ensured the post-Johnny Sexton era began with silverware.

It may also prove a fitting farewell to Sexton’s successor as captain, Peter O’Mahony, who before lifting the trophy said his 105th cap could be his last.

“If it was the last one, I’ll be a happy man,” said the 34-year-old Munster flanker who was in tears during the anthems and indicated he would make a decision about his future within weeks.

O’Mahony had reminded fans after the disappointment at Twickenham that Ireland would have given anything for a single title not so long ago. They had gone 24 years without a championship before the Grand Slam of 2009.

“These days don’t come around,” he said. “We put in a lot of hard work, going back to the World Cup. It was tough but it galvanised us. To come back from that defeat, it shows the character in the group we have.”


The game was punctuated with nerves for the home fans, Finn Russell putting Scotland 3-0 ahead after a scrappy opening where the ball spent more time being pinged into the air than put through the hands.

The Scots gifted Ireland an opening try with a horror show of a lineout five metres from their own line that flew past all the Scottish jumpers into the arms of hooker Dan Sheehan who strolled over for his fifth try of the championship.

A tired looking Ireland attack lacked fluidity, conceding eight early turnovers, but they were also blunted by an organised Scottish defence coach Gregor Townsend said was the best he had seen in recent years.

The mistakes were not limited to Ireland, though, as neither side were able to control a forgettable first half.

Ireland came alive after the break, flyhalf Jack Crowley nudging them four points clear before prop Tadhg Furlong was denied a try in a tight call by the officials and the hosts knocked on twice with the tryline beckoning.

Ireland kept coming as the subdued atmosphere of the first 40 minutes swung between choruses of “The Fields of Athenry” and nervous groans before Porter scored with a clever tap penalty after Scotland’s Ewan Ashman was sent to the sin bin.

A yellow card for Irish replacement Harry Byrne four minutes from time ensured a far nervier finish that Ireland would have liked, particularly when Jones cut the deficit to four points, but the hosts hung tight.

“We’ve had spells in this competition where we’ve been brilliant but at the same time we’ve had spells where we’ve allowed teams to get on the front foot,” said Scotland captain Russell whose side finished with two wins and three defeats.

“We need to get mentally stronger and put in performances week in week out.”

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