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Devil in detail as Scots exorcise an Ireland possessed

The circumstances were bizarre but the win was not flukey.

Scotland 12 Ireland 8
Scotland 12 Ireland 8

In overall terms it was undeserved, and yet it could not have been harder earned. However, for the first time in 12 years, Scotland have won consecutive RBS 6 Nations championship matches –which is all that matters.

The strangeness of it all was perhaps summed up by the presentation of the man-of-the-match award to a Scottish front-five forward, Jim Hamilton, on a day when the opposition won 71% of possession and spent 77% of the match in Scottish territory.

Furthermore, Scotland's most successful ball carrier over the entire 80 minutes was a replacement who was on the pitch for only a quarter of them, and has made his name as a kicking stand-off, a single break accounting for most of the 38 metres of ground Dunc Weir made out of Scotland's combined haul of 122, compared to Ireland's 310.

On the same Murrayfield turf there were parallels to be drawn with the win over Italy a fortnight earlier since then, too, the visitors won the possession and territory battles, but it was otherwise very different.

Where Tim Visser had rightly claimed beforehand that the newly discovered long-range running threat which had produced four tries from different backs that day had disguised deficiencies elsewhere, Scotland's back three hardly saw the ball this time.

The capacity to win in different ways is, of course, the hallmark of good sides and this was all about the imposition of a determination not to be beaten by a team that was this time shredding their first-line defence at regular intervals.

Another statistic, that only once previously had a Six Nations match produced just three first-half points, spoke of an ugly encounter, but there was drama aplenty as Scotland scrambled frantically to stay in the game, then took their chances when they finally carved them out.

There was, too, some fine rugby from Ireland early on.

Paddy Jackson, their new stand-off, whose goal-kicking shakiness contributed to Scotland's cause, dropped his first pass, but his Ulster midfield colleague and fellow debutant Luke Marshall made an electrifying start to his Test career with two clean breaks deep in Scottish territory in the first 10 minutes.

Making last-ditch tackles and nicking lineouts – a large part of the reason Hamilton was singled out – the Scots hung in, even surviving unscathed when reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes after Ryan Grant, perhaps wrongly identified, was deemed to have prevented Conor Murray from capitalising on taking a quick tap penalty.

Keith Earls subsequently broke but, running away from the supporting Brian O'Driscoll, let himself be coralled by Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg.

Scotland were constantly hovering on the thin line between aggressive and indisciplined defending at the breakdown, and five times the ball was sent to touch inside their 22 from Irish penalties only for the defence to hold firm, limiting the damage to a solitary Jackson penalty from in front of the posts.

Something had to give , though, and it did within minutes of the restart as, amid a 16-phase sequence of play, flanker Sean O'Brien became the latest Irishman to break clear.

He slipped as he entered the 22 but Rob Kearney was next to threaten as Sean Lamont fell off him and Murray then darted for the line before the ball was fed to Craig Gilroy, who spun out of an attempted tackle all too easily and dotted down.

Jackson hit the post with his conversion attempt but Scotland had to score next if Irish momentum was not to become irresistible.

They did so, largely thanks to Dougie Hall's crunching tackle on Kearney as the full-back attempted to launch a counterattack, but instead conceded a penalty for not releasing. The rare attacking platform was capitalised on as an Irish overeagerness led their backs to jump offside when Scotland sought to move the ball from the resultant lineout, and Greig Laidlaw slotted the easy kick.

Scotland had a toe-hold which they gripped more tightly when a powerful scrummage drive forced another kickable penalty, and Laidlaw reduced the leeway to two points.

Suddenly the Scottish pack looked re-energised and Weir's big break, scurrying some 30 metres down the right just after coming on, led to a penalty inside Irish territory.

Hogg sent it deep into the 22 and from the lineout Scotland set up an impressive driving maul which forced the concession of another penalty, finally awarded after Kelly Brown had been denied a try because of a Scottish knock-on as they chased the garryowen Laidlaw had sent up, knowing he had a free play.

The scrum-half converted for a third time and Scotland were ahead, somewhat surprisingly given the balance of the match thus far.

Ireland were rattled as demonstrated by an extraordinary passage as Ronan O'Gara, newly afield as a replacement, made a ridiculous attempt at a cross-kick just outside his own 22 which was met by Visser's flailing leg before Marshall showed his inexperience by trying to control it with his feet.

O'Driscoll fell on it, but Ireland had to kill the ball at the point-blank-range ruck and Laidlaw nudged his side further ahead.

There was still work to be done and Scotland aptly ended the game defending desperately after conceding a penalty at a five-metre scrum when, with time up, all they had to do was win the ball and kick it dead.

Once more it was all too frantic from the Irish, however, and, having started so brightly, it ended in bitter disappointment for Marshall as he knocked on to invite the final whistle.

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