This game started with kicking from both teams, in a contest that promised much more by way of attack. Duncan Weir was being tested, and Ryan Wilson and Tim Visser were both guilty of fumbles which meant Ireland generally getting the better of things.
It was also a half that John Barclay may wish to forget on the occasion of his 50th cap, as he was the first to give away points – Sexton had a further two penalties inside the first 12 minutes, missing one – as the Scots frantically tried to secure some possession.
When they finally got some ball they earned a penalty of their own pretty easily but almost instantly were whistled up by Pascal Gauzere to make it 9-3. It was worryingly different to the team that have a pretty decent disciplinary record in the tournament.
Stuart Hogg had the one bright moment of the half and scored one of the tries of the tournament when he fielded an aimless kick with space to run into. It looked like he was running sideways but he was angling for the gap between Best and a prop in the defensive line which he ghosted through and pure pace made him unstoppable, sending a decent-sized visiting support delirious.
The happiness was short lived as a yellow card always looked likely – the match ended with a total of 3 and could have seen 4 – and it was Barclay on the receiving end for killing the ball close to his own line. There was some heroic defending but something in the Scottish tactics on the deck seemed fundamentally at odds with Gauzere’s world view.
While Barclay was off Ireland scored two tries, one almost straight away for CJ Stander who dove over the top of the ruck and one for Keith Earls after a keystone cops mix-up between Hogg and Tommy Seymour.
The half ended with a visibly frustrated Greig Laidlaw kicking a penalty to keep Scotland in range, only just.
Half-time: Ireland 21-13 Scotland
The Scots came out in the second half with a noticeable increase in tempo, but their efforts came to nothing with Weir battling manfully to make things happen in heavy traffic.
Led in defence by Ross Ford and Duncan Taylor, the Scots were tackling hard but just gave Ireland far too much ball to play with, and should have had a try when they found a 4 on 1, Weir being the one, but he was able to scramble back and snaffle the scoring pass from Trimble, running into touch.
Inevitably though, Ireland were near irresistible once in the “red” zone and Conor Murray darted though the gap at the side of a ruck.
At 28-13 the game seemed all but done with only 48 minutes on the clock.
Where last week Scotland looked composed and confident in their own abilities, at times against Ireland they looked aimless and were too reliant on Hogg. When you have so little ball unfortunately you need a little more magic when you do finally get a chance. Weir is many things, but a conjurer is not one of them and the Irish centres Henshaw and Payne were tackling everything that came near them.
When they did put some phases together, Scotland showed that they are still perfectly capable of scoring tries with simple pick and go close to the line. They pushed right, Nel almost snuck over but with the defence tied in Laidlaw and Weir had plenty of time to send Richie Gray over for an easy try. The margin was back to just 8, despite Scotland never really having seemed in the game.
Scotland, though, needed to play with the ball and were trying not to kick it, which resulted in them stuck inside their own half, battering away. Horne joined the fray on the hour mark in an effort to get Scotland back on track, no easy feat in the face of a merciless Irish defence.
Tactically it became a high-stakes game from Scotland, with Taylor and the impressive Stuart McInally creating a nice break but the final forced pass – like the one Richie Gray didn’t give last week, that then created Hogg’s try – went to ground and was snaffled by Devin Toner.
Strangely enough, Strauss came on for Hardie which left the Scottish backrow looking a little short on intensity and Ireland were up to shackling them.
Just when there was a glimmer of hope with the approach looking a lot better, Alex Dunbar cleared Jonny Sexton out of a ruck with some sort of wrestling move that lifted him up and dumped him on his back. It looked worse than it was but once the replays went up Gauzere really had no option but to yellow card him – even if Sexton did have time to complain to the referee before the pain obviously “overcame” him.
Requiring two scores, it was now too much to hope that even Scotland on top of their game – how that seems like a distant memory – would have come back. Instead, Toner scored a try after a nice offload from Heaslip and Scotland’s dream of a third place finish disappeared down the Liffey.
Ireland should have had a first card of their own when Hogg was tackled chasing down a neat John Barclay grubber, but our old friend Craig Joubert, although flagging it, recommended only a penalty. Still, with the game in the bag Ireland were infringing like it was going out of style and there were some ill-tempered exchanges at the end with Jonny Sexton the recipient of some words from the usually mild-mannered Richie Gray before being carded for yet another breakdown infringement.
Although the all in pile-ups were ugly and meaningless it was at least refreshing to see a Scotland team sticking up for themselves, although I am sure they would rather not have had such frustration requiring an outlet, a large part of which sadly must be laid at the referee’s feet rather than Ireland’s. Joe Schmidt might also take some credit for an Irish approach at the breakdown that with the referee’s implicit agreement seemed to all but nullify Scotland for large parts of the game.
Dunbar scored a late try to tighten up the gap on the scoreboard to ten points. They ran for the conversion as if there was still a chance to salvage something but it was a vain hope with the damage already done.
Scotland proved they can score tries pretty easily if the tactical approach is right to get them in the positions, but during this frustrating test match it was only occasionally so and they were too slow to adapt to an Irish team who are tactically very well prepared.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Tricky one this, with too many individual errors costing the team . Richie Gray took his try well, nicked a lineout and made a passable impression of his brother, but could just have easily gone to the workrate of Hardie or Ford who were notable by not making silly mistakes. McInally too had a very decent spell in the second half that did his future prospects no harm.