The Irish are one win away from a Grand Slam in the Six Nations.
By outlasting Scotland 22-7 at Murrayfield on Sunday, Ireland earned a fourth straight victory in the championship to move onto 19 points, just four more than defending champion France.
The French are the only team capable of stopping Andy Farrell’s relentless squad from claiming their first Six Nations title since 2018. That would require Ireland losing at fortress Lansdowne Road to visiting England as well as France beating Wales in a match which takes place a few hours earlier next Saturday.
England is coming off a record 53-10 loss to France in Round 4.
Scotland’s 12th loss in its last 13 meetings with Ireland ended the hosts’ title challenge, though the result was in the balance at halftime with the Irish only leading 8-7 thanks to Mack Hansen squeezing over for a try in the right corner in the 28th minute.
Ireland showed its experience and class in the second half, with two quick-fire tries around the hour mark killing off the hopes of the Scots, who didn’t manage to score a point after the break.
“At halftime, we said this is where we want to be,” Hansen said. “We thought we’d turn it on in the second half.”
After Hansen took an up-and-under on the right flank, the ball was recycled to the left and, after a series of phases, Jamison Gibson-Park’s miss-pass found winger James Lowe, who barged through a challenge to ground in the corner in the 57th.
Five minutes later, Hansen also played a key role in Ireland’s third try by sending in replacement Jack Conan along the right touchline. The back-row forward had the huge figure of Duhan van der Merwe to hold off, but he did and got over the line.
One more try was needed to claim a fourth straight bonus-point win this tournament and it nearly arrived after a length-of-the-field move. It ended with flanker James Ryan tackled about five meters out and his offload just evading Lowe.
Ireland centre Garry Ringrose will surely not be playing against England next weekend after appearing to lose consciousness making a tackle with around 10 minutes remaining.
After a lengthy period of treatment, he was carried off on a stretcher to applause around the ground.
Ireland also lost forwards Caelan Doris, Dan Sheehan and Iain Henderson to injury in the opening 25 minutes of a bruising game.
“We knew this was going to be our toughest game of the year,” Hansen said. “To be fair to the Scottish lads, they showed up — it was such a tough test match.”
Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton couldn’t wait until next weekend.
“We’ll be playing against an English team that are hurting and one that we have huge respect for,” he said. “The Irish people will get behind us next week. We’re looking forward to that.”
The last of Ireland’s three Grand Slams in the championship was in 2018.
For Scotland, it was back-to-back defeats after starting the tournament with wins over England and Wales. Italy is the visitor in Round 5.
“Just frustration that we didn’t put our game out there,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said.
“What we wanted today was a complete, 80-minute performance. We only got it for 40. We know we’ll have to play well next week. Italy comes here with nothing to lose.”