Ireland finished off Round One of the Six Nations with an untroubled 28-6 win over Scotland at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
The influence of new boss Joe Schmidt was evident in Ireland's play, as straightforward but well-taken tries from Andrew Trimble and stand-in captain Jamie Heaslip saw the hosts build a comfortable lead early in the second-half, before Rob Kearney rounded off proceedings in the final ten minutes.
Two penalties from scrum-half Greig Laidlaw were all Scotland had to show for their efforts, as a solid first-half performance gave way to sloppy defence and a recurrent impotency with ball in hand after the break.
The pre-match build-up was dominated by the news that skipper Paul O'Connell was to miss out thanks to a chest infection, but though Ireland's line-out faltered at times, the Munsterman was scarcely missed.
It was another veteran - Brian O'Driscoll - whose longevity at the forefront of elite rugby was rewarded, as the centre marked his record-breaking Six Nations appearance with a win.
Scotland head coach Scott Johnson had claimed his side would adopt a more expansive game-plan in Dublin, and though they did try and move the ball well, the lack of ruthlessness was clear. All too often overlaps were created but ignored as the visitors' big ball-carriers looked for contact or offered Duncan Weir a tempting but ineffectual inside ball. Losing Kiwi convert Sean Maitland to a nasty ankle injury early on did not help, Max Evans replacing him on the wing.
The set-piece was to prove a painfully messy affair. Ireland dominated the scrummage, with Ross Ford's non-hooking crippling the Scots' attempts to retain possession on their own feed. Neither side's line-out functioned to the best of its capabilities, with Scotland in particular coughing up ball. It wasn't a good afternoon for Ford.
The opening exchanges were full of endeavour and physicality, with the breakdown immediately emerging as a terrific contest. Both sides sought to throw the ball around and attack early on; Laidlaw hitting the post with a long-range penalty attempt, before the Irish pack mauled their way to within inches of the visitors' line.
The Scottish defence barely held firm, but they found themselves behind minutes later after skipper Kelly Brown was penalised for failing to roll away, Jonny Sexton slotting where Laidlaw had erred.
The scrum-half was soon on target, levelling the scores after a good period of pressure from the Scots; but Sexton cancelled this out with his second three-pointer.
Scotland continued to dominate both possession and territory, but in typically frustrating style, struggled in vain to breach the whitewash. Their best opportunity presented itself after a fine piece of spoiling play from the pack handed them a scrum five metres from the Irish line. It was under heavy pressure, but Dave Denton did well to pick and go before being bundled into touch at the corner by the scrambling Irish back-row and scrum-half Conor Murray. That was to be the closest the Scots got to a five-pointer all game.
The gritty affair was lit up by a moment of magic from Sexton as half-time approached. A dummied kick and step inside his own half saw him sear downfield, before releasing Heaslip for a charge to the corner flag with a huge, looping pass. Evans saved the day with brilliant last-gasp cover tackle to haul Heaslip's feet over the touchline, but the danger was far from over.
Not for the first time, Scotland's line-out faltered under pressure, and from the resultant penalty, the Irish opted for the corner rather than the posts. This is the sort of decision that has to bear fruit in elite rugby, and though visitors repelled the initial drive well, the ball was spread wide, and Trimble had a simple run-in down the right-hand-side. Sexton was wide with the conversion, but Ireland held an eight-point lead going into the break.
Scotland enjoyed a similarly energetic start to the second-half, with a Laidlaw penalty cutting the gap to five points.
But the hosts responded in emphatic fashion after making mincemeat of the Scottish scrum once again. For the second time, Heaslip turned down points in favour of a line-out five metres out, and it was the skipper himself who profited as the Irish pack swiftly rumbled its way over the line. It was an embarrassingly easy score, and this time, Sexton made no mistake from the tee.
With a 12-point lead now amassed, Ireland looked to choke the final breaths from the Scots. A further penalty from Sexton took the gap to 15, and Cian Healy backed up his powerful display in the scrum with a bullocking midfield break.
Scotland did their best to build more phases in attack, but failed to produce any sort of danger or penetration. In contrast, Ireland swept their way forward with eight minutes to play, and full-back Kearney brushed aside a trio of flimsy tackles from away forwards to stretch and score on his 50th cap. Sexton's final act was to add the extras - Paddy Jackson replacing him - and record-breaker O'Driscoll received a standing ovation as he traipsed off satisfied.
The final moments were unremarkable, dominated by errors and penalties, before Dave Kearney was denied five points with the clock red; his spectacular dive to ground Jackson's chip ruled out by the TMO.
That late disappointment will swiftly be forgotten in the wake of a comprehensive Irish win, however. A fine start to Schmidt's Six Nations reign with his side topping the table after Round One; but a maddeningly familiar story for a Scotland side who never threatened to spring an upset.
Tries: Trimble, Heaslip, Kearney
Con: Sexton 2
Pens: Sexton 3
Pens: Laidlaw 2
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Dave Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (c), 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Moray Low, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Al Dickinson, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Matt Scott, 23 Max Evans.
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (SA), Mike Fraser (NZ)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Ita)
By Jamie Lyall