Ireland 28 Scotland 6
Lucky for us, we do not have long to dwell on this game. No sooner had the final whistle blown on this disappointing 2014 RBS 6 Nations spectacle than thoughts turned immediately to Saturday and the visit of defending champions Wales.
Rightly so. The meetings of Ireland and Wales are always memorable and increasingly laden with the baggage of past encounters, with this year’s clash the subject of anticipation ever since Warren Gatland had the temerity to drop this country’s national treasure Brian O’Driscoll from his Lions team for the final Test against Australia last summer.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will not give two hoots about that little subplot involving his opposite number in the Wales camp but managing the six-day turnaround between this victory over Scotland and the arrival of a team intent on making history with a third title in a row will be sure to focus the mind.
He summed up his side’s performance in overcoming a lacklustre opening 39 minutes to outscore the Scots by three tries to zero as a game that flipped on itself, the Irish gathering momentum after a poor opening spell as the visitors faded in surprising fashion once Andrew Trimble had scored the first try on the stroke of half-time.
After a “tough going” opening period, Schmidt said his players had employed a straightforward gameplan, keeping the ball and winning the collisions.
“Pretty simple stuff,” he said as Jamie Heaslip touched down at the back of a strong driving maul and then Rob Kearney marked his 50th cap by busting a couple of weak tackles to grab the third try from 15 metres out.
Ireland, already missing the ball-carrying presence of the injured Seán O’Brien, had been hit by another serious blow when captain Paul O’Connell was left behind at the team’s city centre hotel nursing a chest infection.
That left Heaslip to lead the team and Dan Tuohy to fill the captain’s boots in the second row, Iain Henderson moving onto the bench to replace his promoted Ulster team-mate.
With Scotland arriving full of front-five intent and with Lions lock Richie Gray in reserve on the bench, one can only imagine the lift Scott Johnson’s side received when the news filtered through to the visiting dressing room.
That boost to morale was certainly visible once Craig Joubert had got the game under way, the Scots enjoying the lions’ share of possession for the opening half hour, although without genuinely threatening the Irish line.
There was little hint of any fluency in Ireland’s play until Johnny Sexton sparked his team into life with a super break out of the Irish half, around some flailing tackles in midfield and advancing into the Scottish 22 before sending a long pass out to Heaslip, who saw his dive into the corner ruled out by the TMO for the slightest hint of his white-booted toe brushing the sideline.
Heaslip was denied but Ireland were not. Tuohy stole the resulting five-metre lineout on the left and quick ball saw Conor Murray, Sexton and Rob Kearney move the ball right where Trimble was waiting to pounce. Sexton converted and Ireland were 11-3 up at the break.
That appeared to be enough to sink Scottish hopes and having enjoyed 50% of possession in the first half, they curiously withdrew into their shell and allowed Ireland to become the dominant side.
With a better cutting edge than their visitors, it was enough to sink the visitors, who now face a smarting England in the Calcutta Cup clash on Saturday at Murrayfield.
Such is the recent nature of Ireland-Wales clashes that there will be just as many grudges on display back here in Dublin that same day as those being expressed by the auld enemies in Edinburgh.
And given Wales’s sluggish opening victory over a spirited Italy, both teams will be seeking a significant increase in intensity that should make for another barnstormer between the two New Zealand coaches’ sides.
If Schmidt needed a simple game plan against the Scots, it will be a case of more of the same, only bigger and stronger, against a direct Welsh side.
Heaslip, who knows so many Wales players as well as any Irishman after two Lions tours in their company, is certainly expecting some blunt-force trauma to be inflicted by both sides next Saturday.
“You’ve got some serious athletes there, big guys, forwards and backs, some of their backs are bigger than their forwards,” he said. “Really good, smart footballers, who get through a lot of work and carry really hard. It’s fair to say Wales play a very simple game but play it really well and really hard.
“In rugby all you’ve got to do is get the basics right. The forwards get really quick ball for their backs and we’re going to have our work cut out for us. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Much like they’d expect pretty direct talking from Gatland and co, this week, Ireland are clearly girding themselves for an examination of their credentials.
IRELAND: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O’Driscoll (F McFadden, 72), L Marshall, D Kearney; J Sexton (P Jackson, 72), C Murray (I Boss, 72); C Healy (J McGrath, 63), R Best (S Cronin, 66), M Ross (M Moore, 63); D Toner (I Henderson, 73), D Tuohy; P O’Mahony (T O’Donnell, 66), C Henry, J Heaslip — captain.
SCOTLAND: S Hogg; S Maitland (M Evans, 32), A Dunbar, D Taylor (M Scott, 64), S Lamont; D Weir, G Laidlaw (C Cusiter, 74); R Grant (A Dickinson, 53), R Ford (P MacArthur, 67), M Low (G Cross, 66); T Swinson, J Hamilton (R Gray, 56); R Wilson, K Brown – captain (J Beattie, 56), D Denton.
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).
The key moment
Andrew Trimble’s try on the stroke of half-time got Ireland up and running after a disappointing opening period and knocked the stuffing out of the Scots, who had been far the better and more positive team to that point.
Just how well Ireland manage the six-day turnaround between yesterday’s game and the visit next Saturday of reigning champions Wales could determine whether they can give themselves the platform for a successful season. Thankfully, Joe Schmidt reported no fresh injuries after the Scotland match, and is already one step ahead of schedule.
Man of the match
There were plenty of candidates for Ireland, with fly-half Johnny Sexton, full-back Rob Kearney and young centre Luke Marshall all playing well while flankers Peter O’Mahony and Chris Henry were excellent. Their back-row partner Jamie Heaslip, though, won the man of the match award, having stepped into the breach as captain, carrying strongly and scoring Ireland’s second try.
South African Craig Joubert is one of the best officials in the business and he handled this game very well, communicating well with the captains and sorting out some early scrum problems.
Ireland 7 Scotland 11
Joe Schmidt is confident captain Paul O’Connell will be fully recovered from the chest infection that struck in the early hours of Sunday morning by the time Ireland next train tomorrow. Other than that, he reported no fresh injuries from the game.
Quote of the day
“I have no doubt they’ll pick themselves up, they’re too good not to. Across board they’re stacked with talent, size and speed. At the same time we have got to believe that we are formidable enough at the Aviva and we’ll be very keen to demonstrate that.” Joe Schmidt looks ahead to the visit of Wales.
It’s a short turnaround for Ireland, who have just six days to prepare for the visit of Wales to the Aviva Stadium this Saturday. The Scots are in the same boat, having to return to Edinburgh to host Calcutta Cup rivals England on the same day.
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