Sexton leads from the front as Ireland survive Scotland scare
Johnny Sexton finished with a joint personal-best tally of 19 points as Ireland overcame Scotland 19-12 to begin their Six Nations campaign with a victory.
The two-time British & Irish Lions tourist scored all of Ireland’s points in Dublin, kicking crossing for the only try of the game and kicking a conversion and four penalties.
His points total matched his previous best against Argentina at Lansdowne Road in 2012 and ensured the hosts overcame a scare to get Andy Farrell’s reign off to a winning start.
But it was a case of what might have been for Scotland after they spurned multiple opportunities – most notably when captain Stuart Hogg fumbled an almost certain try.
Nevertheless, Hogg will take much encouragement from an impressive performance from a revitalised Scotland outfit, who will now turn their attention to retaining the Calcutta Cup.
Scotland made the brighter start of the two sides at the Aviva Stadium, showing no signs of pressure at scrum time as they held their own in every physical encounter they faced.
Yet it was Ireland who went in front after ten minutes when Sexton charged through a gap in the defence after a well-worked move involving Cian Healy and Conor Murray.
A conversion and an additional penalty from Sexton’s boot gave the hosts a 10-6 lead at the break, with Adam Hastings responding with two penalties of his own for Scotland.
Ireland extended their lead after the restart with another Sexton penalty but they could not shake off Scotland, who piled the pressure on the wall of green shirts inside their own 22.
After repeated pulling away they eventually found a hole and found Hogg in space on the wing, only for the new skipper to drop the ball just as he went to touch it down.
Hastings knocked over a penalty shortly afterwards to keep the game in the balance, although Sexton responded with his third three-pointer just five minutes later.
The two fly-halves traded further penalties in the final quarter but despite Scotland’s best efforts, the hosts held on the start their Championship campaign with a hard-fought win.
And Farrell was full of praise for the way Sexton controlled the game for Ireland after the game, praising the 34-year-old for delivering an assured display under pressure.
“He’s not played for a long time, it says a lot about a guy that he is passionate about being captain of his country at the Six Nations for the first time and he goes out and puts in a performance like that,” he said.
“It was outstanding from him. There’s always going to be things to work on, there’s things we are trying to implement, they’re going to take time.
“Some things were good some things were bad, decision making was up and down at times but I thought we looked quite flowing at times.”