England had made them angry. We wouldn’t like them when they’re angry, we were told. The Green Machine rolled into town, vowing they were not to be bullied, and they would avenge last week’s defeat, which they did do, but with a Hellboy-sized helping-hand from Scotland on a blustery day at BT Murrayfield.
Scotland started brightly, Strauss made yards through contact, and Huw Jones chipped ahead with Maitland giving chase. Out for an Ireland line-out just 10m from their line. This was all part of the plan we expected, and what they had practised against Italy. Territory would be key.
A high-tackle on Wilson gave Scotland a penalty inside the 22 at a tough angle, and given the blustery conditions, Scotland went for the corner. They retained possession, and Aki was penalised in front of the sticks for trying to play the ball when a ruck had been formed. Laidlaw put Scotland 3-0 up.
From the restart, that old problem arrived. Huw Jones took his eye off it, spilled it forward, and Ireland took the scrum on the 22. We’d been concerned about that area of the game, but Scotland held firm, forcing Ireland to go through the phases. They’re pretty good at that too, but after driving Ireland back, Scotland forced Sexton to knock on.
Scotland played on and Hogg went. He saw a gap and tried to chip it into space to regather. BT Murrayfield screamed for an infringement, but Poite saw nothing in it. Ireland regained possession. The ball was spun wide to Stockdale, he too chipped and chased. Seymour beat him to the ball, but in a calamitous moment, his pop pass to the unmarked Maitland went too high. Conor Murray had the simple task of gathering the spilled ball and running it home from only 10m or so. Sexton, with a smattering of boos echoing around, struck the ball terribly and missed the conversion, but you can’t go offering free points to Ireland of any description.
Scotland got themselves into a threatening position when a Murray box-kick went out on the full, but Stockdale picked off Laidlaw’s telegraphed pass to Jones and Ireland were off again. Seymour snuffed out the danger this time, but disaster seemed certain to strike.
A wounded Hogg seemed to have injured his arm during that earlier kick and chase, so last week’s hat-trick hero Kinghorn came on to replace him. Seconds later, Stockdale took Sexton’s inside pass and raced through a huge whole in the Scotland midfield to score under the sticks.
It was Ireland’s time to botch Russell’s high-hangin restart and Kinghorn went close with a powerful run, forcing O’Mahony to concede a penalty. Scotland motioned as for the kick to touch, but Finn tapped and went, Strauss bullocked towards the line, but Ireland held firm and forced a knock-on. A chance gone begging, when we knew chances would be few and far between for the men in blue.
Ireland forced the penalty at the resultant scrum, but Sexton’s kick to touch did not go far, and he hobbled back into position. Murray had taken the conversion for Stockdale’s try, so something was clearly wrong with the reigning World Player of the Year, and while a possible – if unlikely- Sam Johnson try was being reviewed in the 24th minute, Ireland lost one of their talismen. A real shame for the match with both Hogg and Sexton going off, but there was still nearly three quarters of a game to be played here.
For all of Russell’s intricate probing, Ireland were finding massive gaps down Scotland’s right-hand side and making big gains, but from out of nowhere the maestro number 10 intercepted a simple pass to Rory Best inside his own half and hared towards the line with Keith Earls in hot pursuit. The angry-faced Munsterman snaffled Finn just short of the line, but Russell had the presence of mind to look up and off-load from the deck for Sam Johnson to score his first try for his new adopted homeland. Laidlaw judged the wind nicely to squeeze the conversion over.
Puppet-master Russell was pulling all the strings now, another foray into Ireland’s territory forced a 5 metre line-out, which Ireland stole, but had to touch down in goal for a scrum.
Scotland drove and drove again with just a couple of minutes remaining of the first half, but the green wall refused to crumble. Eventually the backs got involved, and Seymour was so close to going over in the right-hand corner, taking Jones’ pass from behind him brilliantly and edging ever so close to the line. The ball was recycled, but at the next phase Scotland knocked on in contact.
It was to become a recurring theme in the second-half.
Half-time: Scotland 10 – 12 Ireland
The second-half started without the injured Ryan Wilson, replaced by Rob Harley who had been warmed to the speed of the game with a run out just before the end of the first as a blood replacement for the excellent Jamie Ritchie.
An early error in midfield nearly gifted an opportunity to Huw Jones, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on the kick ahead with nobody home at the back.
Scotland’s discipline in the first half had been very good, but a penalty conceded by Jonny Gray allowed Sexton’s replacement Joey Carbery to kick to touch. With another penalty advantage for a high tackle by Harley, Rob Kearney had a 2 on 1 overlap with Kinghorn in front of him, but he made the wrong decision and went at the Edinburgh man, who forced the error in the tackle.
Ireland again went to the corner and like Scotland had done in the first half, battered at Scotland’s line. The men in blue did not yield, and after Murray, having a poor game by his high standards despite his try, passed poorly to Earls, Ritchie forced a turnover penalty: a rarity.
This Irish team is relentless, and if you give them the ball back, eventually they make it count. Carbery made the most of another loose-pass, driving between Dell and Harley, who impeded each other in trying to make the tackle, and after charging 50m down the middle of the pitch he spread the ball out wide with a nice pass to the unmarked Earls.
Scotland were getting themselves into decent positions, but couldn’t keep hold of the ball with frequent knock-ons. Although the scrum wasn’t the penalty factory that we feared it would be, it allowed Ireland an easy exit, even if Poite’s arm wasn’t raised in the direction of the green jerseys.
The Scottish line-speed was impressive though, and when Johnson raced out to tackle the slightly isolated Farrell, Ritchie was onto the ball like a hawk who’d spotted a rabbit. Ireland didn’t compete fairly at the breakdown, and Laidlaw took the 3-points to make it a one-score game at 13-19.
Alas, more Scottish incompetence gifted Ireland the ball back, and in dangerous territory too. Kinghorn, under absolutely no pressure, knocked on an easy-looking high ball inside Scotland’s 22. Eventually Strauss was penalised for not rolling away, and Carbery opened the lead back up to 9 points.
Both sides emptied their benches with the game winding down, such as Price on to try and speed things up for Scotland, and Larmour replacing Stockdale to take advantage of tiring Scottish legs. But by now, this furiously paced match had taken it’s toll physically as well as mentally. Silly penalties and errors crept in on both sides and the final act of the match was more of the same: Ali Price knocking on at the base with Scotland in possession and hoping for a chance to claim at least a losing bonus point.
This was a “Groundhog Day” game for Scotland with moments of excitement, some great skill, and even some ferocious defending, but it’s the glaring mistakes, like the Seymour and Maitland debacle that ultimately cost us. Three missed line-outs, compared to Ireland’s 100% ratio, also don’t help matters.
Attendance: 67, 140 (sell-out)
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)
SRBlog Man of the Match: he may still be regarded as the enfant terrible by certain sections of the Scottish support, but when he plays as well as this, there is no doubt that Finn Russell is the most important player in this Scottish side. As with last week, another very composed and basically error free performance, but still with the flair and unpredictability that keeps the opponents on their toes.