Neither side headed into this clash at the Aviva Stadium aka Lansdowne Road II aka The Bed Pan having really taken their chances in the tournament thus far. Ireland at least had taken some points from Italy and France although not perhaps as many as they might have liked, while Scotland had none despite deserving more.
Unfortunately, Scotland took a few steps back and in the end an unspectacular but grimly effective Ireland side took the points and the positives.
The first half was pretty decent up to a point, and that point was just after Richie Gray’s astounding dummy on Rob Kearney and the lumbering try that followed. Scotland had the momentum, and were well and truly back in the match. Then a mis-fired kick from Ireland gave Lee Jones an easy mark. Clear the ball, hold out for half time. Simple.
Only Jones passed it to Hogg who tried to run it through an improbably tight gap, and he found that international defences aren’t always as forgiving as the French were to his silky running. Laidlaw couldn’t clear it nearly as far when the Irish pressed, and gifted them an easy attacking platform with which to snatch the momentum back just before half time. Scotland were not out of this match until almost 70 minutes, but that 2-3 minute spell was the only period when they actually acted like it.
The main problem though is still lapses and concentration, and when you mix that in with a relative lack of experience in leadership areas that will lead to poor decision making and silly penalties. What was most worrying was the decision to spurn a try from a second driving maul in favour of 3 points, and then in the second half the decisions to reject the points from the penalties Ireland kept gifting us in favour of chasing increasingly unlikely tries.
They were chasing a game that wasn’t running away from them.
Lamont and Morrison battled manfully, and Morrison caused trouble in defence and several crucial tackles, including holding Bowe up over the line after a mischievous cross field kick from Sexton. Gray and Denton were very good again, and Rennie was taken off a little earlier than he might have liked. John Barclay had another effective game and looked for work ball carrying. The scrum was still fairly poor, and aside from a couple of stolen balls late on from Man of the Match Donnacha Ryan, the lineout was pretty secure. The arrival of Euan Murray did little to change this, in fact the scrum seemed almost to get worse. Top class props with Scottish grannies, look out.
Debut referee Chris Pollock went reasonably well, he listened to his touch judges and acted swiftly when Jones was knocked out and generally gave both sides a fair shout. But the Irish were warned twice for repeated infringement yet the first yellow card came out for Max Evans. Evans (who hasn’t had his troubles to seek these past weeks) was binned after he collided slightly with Keith Earls off the ball who then collapsed to the ground a little too easily. It wouldn’t have been a penalty try, in fact Earls would have been unlikely to get past the other defenders, but the instant he went to ground the damage was done.
Ford and Evans protested, but they sensed as we all did that the game that Scotland didn’t need to chase had up and run away on them again.
Rory has more thoughts on the match over at Rugby World.