Scotland 27 Ireland 22: Maybe it was Edinburgh’s hilly terrain that left Ireland with a taste for giving themselves mountains to climb but whatever the reason, there is now a long, uphill trail for Joe Schmidt’s side to negotiate over the coming weeks of this RBS Six Nations Championship.
Ambitions of a first Grand Slam on this head coach’s watch were ripped apart at Murrayfield on Saturday as Ireland’s impressive momentum, which gathered speed during November in such style, was sabotaged by their own hand.
The late-arriving team bus which left the Irish squad with a narrow window to get through their pre-match preparations was an apt metaphor for what followed as the visitors got stuck in first gear for much of an awful first half that offered Scotland open road to the tryline.
In this new age of Six Nations bonus points, the Scots were eyeing the first of theirs with 10 minutes still to play in the opening period as full-back Stuart Hogg twice bamboozled Irish defenders to capitalise on sloppy turnovers from the men in green and then centre Alex Dunbar caught them napping by infiltrating a lineout and stealing home in the simplest of fashions.
A Keith Earls try in between Hogg’s double and Dunbar’s 28th-minute try hinted at an Ireland side gradually waking up and smelling the coffee. But save for a Paddy Jackson penalty in the 33rd minute to leave his side 21-8 down at the break, it was not until the second half that Schmidt’s side found their feet. Even then, having scraped into a 22-21 lead following converted tries from Iain Henderson and Jackson, Ireland found a way to implode all over again, two late Greig Laidlaw penalties punishing the Irish failure to close out the game once in front.
Laidlaw’s late hammer blows did not deliver a try bonus point, while Ireland left Murrayfield with a losing one. Schmidt’s men now have a real struggle on their hands to claw their way back into contention and the bitterly frustrated head coach hinted on Saturday night that it was the players who failed to fire in Edinburgh that would be tasked with clearing up their own mess, starting on Saturday in Rome.
Saying there would not be too many kneejerk reactions in terms of selection for the Italy game, Schmidt added: “These players have worked really hard to get to the position of being selected in the first place and so you don’t suddenly turn around and throw someone else into the mire.
“They feel that we are in this position and I am pretty sure that they will be pretty keen to fight their way out of this position.
“There is a disappointment there (in the dressing room), and when you get from the bottom of the mountain and you get back up, you are 21-5 down and you get 21-22 ahead, that is a fair bit of hard work that goes into that. I think we deserved the lead too. They clawed their way back in impressively and then to let that slip there is a massive disappointment. Just at the start of the championship you cannot allow it to linger too long, although I think it is OK to let it linger a little bit.”
The Ireland players will get the message during today’s review but Jackson, who appears set to continue this weekend in Italy in the continuing absence of Johnny Sexton was staying positive.
“Naturally we’ll all be down for the next couple of days, and once we get into camp we’ll have to review the game. Then it’s back to normal. “We’ve got to focus on Italy — there’s still a championship there for us. Italy is a huge focus for us, we’ve been in positions like this before, where we know how to bounce back. We’re a tight group, it was a good, close game, but I think we all know what the point of difference today was, and it was our mistakes. We’ll get back on the horse.”
As sluggish in defence as Ireland were in the first half, to have then done the hard graft to get themselves back in this contest, it was more than careless to lose this contest all over again late on. The concession of three silly penalties allowed Scotland to work their back in front as Laidlaw completed a perfect afternoon off the tee with his fourth and fifth successful kicks of the afternoon.
“We weren’t as accurate as we needed to be,” Schmidt said of Ireland’s endgame.
“You can look back and see the line breaks and we didn’t finish in behind them. We had territory and possession in the first half and they had the score, but at the same time... our possession was very slow and some of the possession you want is from those positions in the 22. I think we turned two or three of those over and it was just too easy for them to come back and attack us.
“Even, leading up to the penalty in the back end of the game, to go ahead, they actually had a five-metre lineout just prior to that and we didn’t get as much pressure on that as we would have liked. Post that, we had a lineout because they had to clear just outside their 22, and we didn’t make enough use of that ball. As soon as you don’t do that, you are inviting them in and they were hanging in there. And when they got their chance, they made the most of it.”
S Hogg; S Maitland, H Jones (M Bennett, 60), A Dunbar, T Seymour; F Russell (D Weir, 45-52 - HIA), G Laidlaw – captain; A Dell (G Reid, 55), F Brown (R Ford, 4-9 - blood, 26), Z Fagerson; R Gray, J Gray; R Wilson, H Watson (J Barclay, 49), J Strauss (T Swinson, 66).
Replacement not used:
R Kearney; K Earls (T Bowe, ), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath (C Healy, 56), R Best – captain, T Furlong (J Ryan, 69); I Henderson (U Dillane, 64), D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien (J van der Flier, 66), J Heaslip.
Replacements not used:
N Scannell, K Marmion, I Keatley.
Romain Poite (France).
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