Ireland ended the 2016 Six Nations with a second win after overcoming Scotland in Dublin with a 35-25 victory.
Four tries from last year’s champions built upon 15 points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton as Ireland ensured a tough tournament would end on a high.
A battle for mid-table dominance had an extra edge with Scotland eyeing up three straight Six Nations wins, but aside from a brief period after Stuart Hogg’s special try they were always chasing the scoreboard.
Their frustrations too with the officating by the end began to boil over in a spiky finish.
Following on from their thrashing of Italy the week before Ireland were full of running and Sexton, off the back of a fine tournament, shone with the ball in hand or on his boot, but drew heavy criticism for appealing for a card after he was flipped on his back by Alex Dunbar, and also finished his Six Nations in the sin-bin.
Scotland were full of energy and have certainly made strides in this Six Nations, but yellow cards for John Barclay and Dunbar in each half proved incredibly costly on each occasion as their game management left something to be desired.
Having 81 percent possession in the first half only produced an eight-point advantage for Ireland by the break, with Scotland having been penalised incessantly at the breakdown by referee Pascal Gauzère.
It was Sexton’s boot after Scotland strayed offside which opened the scoring, although he oddly missed a straightforward effort minutes later.
That first penalty however moved him into second in Ireland’s all-time points scoring rankings ahead of David Humphreys, with only Ronan O’Gara ahead of him.
Sexton made no mistake with his third kick after Scotland were penalised for a high tackle, all within the first 12 minutes, before Laidlaw finally put Scotland on the board at 6-3. Sexton struck once more to restore the six-point gap before Ireland were stunned by a magical solo score from Hogg.
Arguably the premier full-back in this Six Nations, Hogg spotted a gap between Rory Best and Mike Ross before cantering through it into space and hitting the accelerator to score a magnificent solo try.
Laidlaw’s conversion put Scotland ahead for the first time at 10-9 but Scotland paid for their earlier indiscipline with the loss of Barclay, on his 50th cap, to the sin-bin for coming in at the side.
In Barclay’s absence Ireland pummelled the Scottish defensive line, eventually breaking it, through CJ Stander for his second Test try in a week, and Ireland were over again almost instantly.
Sexton’s clever kick, off his left foot, found a gap in the defence and a calamitous mix-up from the Scottish defence allowed Keith Earls, also celebrating his half century, to gratefully scoop up and score.
Sexton couldn’t convert and Scotland captain Laidlaw had the final say of the half with a penalty to make it 21-13.
Turning to their maul after the break Ireland notched up try number four, Conor Murray with a trademark snipe from close range catching out the tired Scottish defence as Ireland built an imposing 28-13 lead.
A response from the visitors was needed fast and it came through Richie Gray, the towering lock hitting the right line as he found a sizeable gap in Ireland’s defence after Scotland had sucked in the tacklers to one corner, Laidlaw converting to close the gap to eight.
Scotland noticeably tried to lift the tempo but they were hamstrung by Dunbar’s daft moment of indiscipline flipping Sexton over the horizontal, for which he saw yellow.
Ireland went to the corner from the resulting penalty and eventually Devin Toner crashed over for try number four before a scrap off the ball afterwards.
Scotland’s frustrating afternoon was starting to spill over but a persistent stint in Ireland’s 22, with Sexton yellow carded for coming in at the side, ended eventually with a try for Dunbar.
It was too late though for a fightback, Ireland rounding out a chippy contest with another victory as each side looks forward for better fortunes on their overseas tours later this year.
Man of the Match: Jamie Heaslip again impressed but his back-row colleague CJ Stander will be waking up pretty sore on Sunday after a remarkable number of carries. What a find he has been for Joe Schmidt.
Moment of the Match: One of the tournament’s top tries from Stuart Hogg, who once again showed his class with a special break to put his side ahead in the first half.
Villain of the Match: Really poor from Alex Dunbar flipping Jonathan Sexton onto his back at the ruck at a pivotal moment, for which he was yellow carded, although the reaction from Sexton was also poor.
Tries: Stander, Earls, Murray, Toner
Cons: Sexton 3
Pens: Sexton 3
Yellow Card: Sexton
Tries: Hogg, Gray, Dunbar
Cons: Laidlaw 2
Pens: Laidlaw 2
Yellow Card: Barclay
Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Sean Lamont
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)