DUBLIN – Six Nations leaders Ireland piled enormous pressure on England as wing Jacob Stockdale scored two tries in a 28-8 defeat of Scotland to put them within one victory of the third Grand Slam in their history on Saturday.
Scotland matched their hosts for much of the first half, but Ulster flyer Stockdale went over twice, the second on the stroke of halftime as Ireland went in 14-3 ahead.
Scrumhalf Conor Murray wriggled over early in the second half to widen Ireland’s advantage, but it was replacement Sean Cronin’s try in the 68th minute that could prove a title winner.
It earned Ireland a bonus point which means England must beat France, and score a four-try bonus point, in Paris later on Saturday to keep the title race alive.
Whatever happens in Paris, Ireland, who have now won 11 matches in succession for the first time, will go to Twickenham next weekend within sight of a momentous grand slam, having denied England a similar feat last season.
“It’s been in the back of our minds and it’s something you always dream of,” Murray said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point.”
Scotland showed glimpses of the form that saw them beat England in the previous round of matches but left too many points out on the field through bungled passing.
They were deep into Ireland territory and leading 3-0 through Greig Laidlaw’s penalty when they offered the hosts the first of several gifts during the afternoon.
Centre Peter Horne’s pass was careless and Stockdale intercepted before scorching across the acres of empty turf to score under the posts with Johnny Sexton converting.
Scotland wasted a glorious chance to score when Huw Jones chipped over Keith Earls, picked up and burst clear with Stuart Hogg inside.
A simple pass would have resulted in a try but Jones made a mess of it and the chance went begging.
Ireland looked nervous, but Scotland failed to capitalise on several promising positions and Stockdale punished them when Garry Ringrose put him in for his sixth try of the tournament.
When Murray scored and Sexton converted to put Ireland 21-3 ahead in the 46th minute, victory looked assured and it was all about taking the bonus point.
Blair Kinghorn’s try did narrow the lead to 21-8 in the 51st minute, but Ireland were simply more clinical, and there was a sense of elation when a lineout move in the corner resulted in Cronin, almost on his knees, going over.
“We created a lot of opportunities and one more pass needed to go to hand,” Scotland skipper John Barclay said.
“The way we play the game is fast, so when a team gets ahead that is as good as Ireland, they can make it difficult for you.”