Although it is not mentioned often, the battle at the restart following a score can prove to be a pivotal point in rugby. By far not one of the most glamorous aspects of the modern game, it is without a doubt one of the most practised, and looking back at the Ireland match at the weekend, Mr Cotter and co. have reason to be concerned.
Before anyone mentions that this was an “experimental XV”, the restart is a fundamental aspect for any team, let alone our current crop of World Cup hopefuls, and an area that would have been worked on as thoroughly as the ‘organised chaos’ attacking structure. Never mind it being an easy thing to practice for any level of rugby team.
The main idea behind an exit strategy is to stop your opponent immediately cancelling out your score, by relieving pressure from your half. The kick off receipt and following phases from the last quarter of Saturday’s match were a very bad example of how to deal with this, look away now kids…
Here is a timeline of the two Irish tries in the last 20 minutes:
59:52 – Restart following Pete Horne’s penalty (15-14), Scotland (just about) regain possession from the kick off.
60:22 – Substandard passing forces Tonks to send up an aimless bomb, Ireland recover ball almost unopposed 35m out.
60:52 – Simon Zebo dots down to put Ireland in the lead, Madigan converts. (21-15).
65:29 – Restart following Pete Horne’s try and Jackson conversion (22-21), Ireland win the ball then knock on. Scotland Scrum on the 10m line.
66:52 – Solid Scotland scrum, Denton passes back to Lamont, who gives a poor pass to Matt Scott who subsequently knocks on.
67:49 – Ball is playable following Irish scrum.
68:51 – Luke Fitzgerald crosses the line, Madigan converts. (28-22).
For Fitzgerald’s try, the ball was in open play for only 73 seconds between the restart and the try. Even more worryingly, Scotland had possession 30 seconds before Zebo’s try. Quite simply, that is not good enough. When playing against top sides like Ireland, they will (clearly) punish us when Scotland immediately hand over the ball in our own half. South Africa and Samoa will definitely take note and pressurise us here if there is not a significant improvement in the following Warm ups. At neither one of these restarts did Scotland look for a territorial gain to put Ireland on the back foot, rather they tried to compete against an aerially dominant team and then failed to execute a simple crash ball.
In my view, a strong Irish XV were there for the taking, and what a confidence boost it would have been to have won at the Aviva. There were however many positives, including the impressive return of Ruaridh Jackson, and our ability to regularly punch holes in a team that prides themselves on their defensive systems.
Unfortunately, we have been trying to wring out positives for 6 months, rather than wins. A winning mentality is invaluable at International level. Scotland must sort out their composure at essentials like the defensive restart if they are going to be making it through the group – if they had been focussed on Saturday, they probably would be jetting off to Turin on the back of a much needed win.