Ireland added further gloss to their Six Nations campaign with a 32-14 victory over Scotland in their clash at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
First half tries from stand-in skipper Rory Best, scrum-half Eoin Reddan and winger Andrew Trimble put the hosts in control of the contest and replacement Fergus McFadden added another after the break to set the seal on a deserved victory and condemn the Scots to a sixth successive Test defeat.
It was an all-too familiar scenario for the visitors, who contributed fully to a high-octane match but failed to capitalise on a wealth of territory and possession in the first half which will have infuriated under-pressure coach Andy Robinson. Three penalties from fly-half Greig Laidlaw kept the Scots in touch before an outstanding score from lock Ritchie Gray offered further reason for hope but they failed to score after the break with a nasty-looking head injury to winger Lee Jones and a yellow card for Max Evans compounding their woe.
Robinson has now presided over two wins in 14 Six Nations games and a wooden spoon decider against Italy beckons in Rome next weekend. His side could only marvel at the clinical finishing displayed by their rivals, whose own title hopes faded with Wales' victory over Italy earlier in the day, but their status as the championship's most dangerous side was safeguarded by another four-try haul with fly-half Jonathan Sexton adding 12 points with the boot.
The opening try by Best, leading Ireland in the injury-enforced absence of Paul O'Connell, was particularly well-received and topped another tremendous afternoon for the Ulster hooker. Openside Peter O'Mahony enjoyed a bright full debut, flanker Stephen Ferris produced a typically ferocious shift in defence, Rob Kearney excelled once more at fullback and Keith Earls showed flashes of brilliance at outside centre.
Ireland - who were starting a Six Nations game without either of their Lions captains, O'Connell or Brian O'Driscoll, for the first time since 2001 - had seen their title hopes fade with Sunday's draw with France, but have now registered back-to-back wins at the Aviva Stadium for the first time. The Scots will require more heroics from Gray and No.8 David Denton, who were magnificent today, if they are to dispatch Italy.
Scotland showed no distress from the loss of Nick De Luca to a hamstring injury during the warm-up - Max Evans moved into the starting XV - during a lively start. Released by a quickly-taken free-kick, they probed down the left wing before winning a penalty that Laidlaw sent between the uprights.
Gray and David Denton made robust carries as Scotland swept from one 22 to another and once more Laidlaw was on target to ensure their endeavour was rewarded. A perfectly executed set move at an attacking line-out enabled Ireland to take the lead, however, with man of the match Donnacha Ryan taking and supplying O'Mahony.
O'Mahony switched back to the blindside and fed Best, who flattened scrum-half Mike Blair and touched down for a try converted by Sexton. Ireland had opted for the line-out instead of Sexton taking a shot at goal, but in the 26th minute the Leinster fly-half chose the three points.
Once the omnipresent Best had dealt with a chip ahead that Sean Lamont was in danger of reaching and Scotland had launched a fruitless assault on the whitewash, Laidlaw landed his third penalty. Ireland's response was their second try, though there was an element of luck involved as Reddan, having failed to distribute the ball from a ruck, was suddenly offered a sight of the line. Wriggling through tackles from Denton, Blair and Lamont, he scrambled over from five yards out and Sexton converted.
An action-packed game continued to excite when Gray displayed tremendous skills to touch down, shrugging off Bowe and Reddan before dummying Kearney to gallop over. On the stroke of half-time Ireland almost squandered a glorious chance when Kearney went alone instead of using Trimble, but the ball was still recycled and the Ulster winger was in.
The irrepressible Denton continued to scatter Irish tacklers early in the second half, but the home side then exploded into life. Lightning acceleration from Keith Earls started a passage of play that ended with Bowe being held up over the line by Graeme Morrison's try-saving tackle.
Scotland dominated possession in the third quarter but were foiled by outstanding Irish defence and as the match entered the final 10 minutes there was a sense their chance had gone. Yet Ireland still needed another score to calm their nerves and it was delivered by Sexton, who slotted a difficult penalty from a tight angle to secure a nine-point cushion.
Any lingering doubt over the result was dispelled four minutes before time when McFadden touched down with Ireland capitalising on the absence of Evans, who had been sin-binned for a cynical tug on Earls as the centre raced for the line.