At the moment I am beset on all sides with the reality, the spin coming out of Murrayfield and probably some early onset moaning from supposed experts. I have purposely not read any newspapers this morning, but I have watched the game again, re-read some stuff that went out live during the game and have endeavoured to see most of the official comments. So let’s look at the coverage of Scotland 10-6 Ireland.
If you follow Scotland Rugby Team on Twitter or followed the BBC Sport As it Happens page you would have seen that the incidents in the game where few and far between, and anything noteworthy was, in the flesh or on-screen, not that noteworthy. The commentators on BBC, John Beattie and Andy Nicol, strived to assure us the game was entertaining and lively despite the thirty-three minutes of 0-0.
It was not a good game.
What the Murrayfield crowd saw was two sides playing distinctively different styles that were ineffective.
Ireland were misshapen and anxious. They flung the ball about and players like Cronin, Trimble, Fitzgerald, Donnacha Ryan and Niall Ronan all tried to make thing happen with the ball in hand, but were often horribly out of position or forcing a move that should have broken down.
The team in green had some steady performances –they will be heartened by the apparent return to full-health of Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble is a great runner when he backs himself- but Declan Kidney will not be rushing to pick the likes of Tony ‘Mushy’ Buckley, Tom Court, Leo Cullen, Mike McCarthy or Paddy Wallace when they play the USA in the Yarrow Stadium on September the 11th.
This is not to say they did not contribute to a game that was, at least, competitively close.
Trimble and Fitzgerald broke from deep when they had to, even if Fitzgerald was perhaps a little too selfish and a little too keen to dance for a centre vying for World Cup selection. Every time Ruaridh Jackson leant back after a back-spinning clearance kick you flicked your script to see if Kearney was scheduled to catch it. Most of the time he was.
In the pack there was a plethora of candidates to carry the ball, some ineffectual, but in defence everyone looked as if they were up to the task. In the first half in particular they had huge spells of pressure but easily located their targets and Scotland appeared not to bother the try-line.
Which gives me a simple segue for the analysis of Scotland because it is not the lack of try-scoring opportunities that will worry Robinson (those will come as the team play more minutes together and the back-line looks settled while the forwards tighten up their skills), but the manner in which we protected the ball.
We did score a try and it was from a combination of a great half-blocked line, a delicate pass from De Luca and some superb vision from Joe Ansbro. We even saw a nice break from Sean Lamont in the 51st minute, an unexpected kick-catch and dart from Johnnie Beattie and a sight of Nikki Walker bearing down on the line. All of these opportunities, though, resulted in the same instance: no try.
The reason for lost ball and line avoidance? Our support was well off the pace and grossly out of position so individuals have to do the best they can on their own.
In just a few select instances EMC Man of the Match Geoff Cross was held up on the 22 and turned over, early in the second half, and he and Jim Hamilton lost ball out wide as Scotland tried to come from behind. Cross knocked-on, but Hamilton was turned over because he was isolated on the wing and went to feet too early.
From his scything run Lamont was also isolated and Ireland easily stole the ball. In fact for the whole game I found myself worrying if the pre-season drills using the much-publicised Rhino Collision King Scotland had been using was only done in ones and twos, and with irregularity.
The Scottish forwards and centres appeared all too interested in getting ball themselves and standing flat on proceeding phases. Ross Rennie worked tirelessly at breakdown but I hope I am not alone in wishing that, in any future game in a Scotland jersey, Geoff Cross, Jim Hamilton and Alasdair Strokosch will focus a little bit more on rucking than getting their hands on the ball.
The upshot of such activity was that Scotland’s style followed a familiar pattern.
With ball slowed and Captain Lawson having to swat away Irish hands as players queued up out wide the forwards did what they did during the 6 Nations. They diligently ran into brick wall after brick wall hoping to crack a hole in defence. Few appeared.
I haven’t seen any figures yet but I imagine the amount of ball carries during the game will be very high, but the yardage not as impressive. This is to be expected. Everyone wants to make a case for themselves and there is not much time to do so.
After the first half I found myself tweeting; “Scotland not quite clicking yet, but could be close. Need perspective, though: we would be in danger if we play like this against Eng & Arg.”
I stand by this statement. Of course I am glad we pulled a win out of a difficult situation, and that Morrison, Rennie and Kellock are ready to go to a gruelling World Cup but we need that perspective. England will be settled and more combative at collision points than the team Ireland pushed out. There will be more of an effort to snaffle ball at the breakdown, too.
This is the reason that I will not except the SRU’s post match line of “it’s an international game and, in the end, the records show we beat Ireland.” Doing well against England and Argentina and preparing for their games is bigger than that and, anyway, if you are worried about world rankings I am sure that you are aware that the ranking points count double during the Rugby World Cup. I feel this renders the record book irrelevant during the EMC tests.
So onward to Italy. Can we click? I think we can, and if we sort out the breakdown and finish off those half-breaks and isolated runs I for one will be even more optimistic about our World Cup bow.
Are the Sunday papers doom and gloom? Time to find out…