Does it hurt more, or is it easier to ignore, when that sinking feeling after all your pre-tournament hope evaporates in a different time zone and you are sitting bleary-eyed on the couch at an ungodly hour?
It didn’t take long did it?
Both sides started this Pool A opener in Yokohame off with kicks in the early stages, but if that was an indication that the teams had their tactical approach right it was only 50% true.
Stuart Hogg was lively in the opening stages with some neat little chips but Ireland were as usual content to soak up the close play and quickly limit the damage from any excursions into the wider channels.
On the other hand all it took was one little mistake – a missed tackle on Iain Henderson by skipper Stuart McInally – for Ireland to be rampaging in behind Scotland’s defence. Several brutal short carries later and James Ryan inched over the line enough to score.
The confident world number 1 ranked side spurned a kick at goal as early as the 12th minute of play, but when the rolling maul works as well as it did why would they need to do anything else? After quarter of an hour it was 12-0.
A Greig Laidlaw penalty chipped away at the lead following some Scottish possession but that was to be their only points of the half.
The Scots were more adventurous, but Ireland made fewer mistakes. Early pressure unsettled Irish half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton but not to the extent that it hampered what their team was doing – although Murray took over the goal kicking pretty early on. Bundee Aki in turn failed a HIA following an attempt to do something similar to Finn Russell. But Irish line speed shutting down his options to pass to shackled Finn far more than any late hit would.
A more telling tale would be the first decent incursion into the Irish 22. Tommy Seymour misread Finn’s fairly familiar inside crash ball – one he must have taken a few hundred times – and Andrew Conway was able to hoof the loose ball up the pitch. Hogg won the foot race comfortably but the ball bounced off the post and meant a hurried grounding in goal that was far from comfortable. In the red zone, ball over the line, tick. Just the wrong line from where the move started.
From that scrum Ireland sent CJ Stander charging through the middle and although Sam Johnson looked to stop him, there were more of those pick and go carries and Tadhg Furlong was the scorer this time.
It was far too easy in a first half when Scotland had no answer to any of the multiple questions Ireland were asking of them. The excellent Jacob Stockdale was reading any half-chances out wide and Hogg and Finn Russell looked starved of time on the ball; little was seen of Duncan Taylor or Sam Johnson aside from some good scramble defence.
The half ended on a truly miserable note with Hamish Watson twisting his knee in a ruck – under pressure from Irish forwards of dubious legality – and leaving the game on a stretcher, replaced by Fraser Brown. By that point he may have been glad to see the back of it but for the rest of us there was another full half to contend with.
Half-time Ireland 19-3 Scotland
Second half started with Scotland losing the ball in possession so softly as the rain that had been promised started to hammer down in Yokohama.
Suddenly attacking moves with a high degree of difficulty looked even more foolhardy but was there a plan B that suited Scotland in such weather?
An Irish-like succession of short range carries and better ball protection actually got them within a few metres of the line but Barclay was distracted by the onrushing and possibly offside CJ Stander and spilled it.
After losing that scrum, Nel and Barclay were replaced by Berghan and Blade Thomson. That’d didn’t alter the trajectory of the result as Andrew Conway put things to bed with a try following Ryan Wilson’s failure to deal with a high ball bang on the Scottish 22. At 24-3 that looked like that, and Ireland brought off their key men with bigger challenges to come.
They’d played very little rugby as is their way – there were very almost no attacks through the backline of any note in a stifled second half, but they do what they need to do, and do it well, only missing half the tackles Scotland did. Could they win the World Cup? You can’t tell on this showing, their single gear was enough to beat Scotland, and beat us well. It should also see them out of the pool comfortably.
Even as Tadhg Beirne was binned for slowing a rare Scottish break it was too little, too late. Scotland couldn’t even get anything out of that with a man advantage but did at least look livelier in the final quarter of an hour with Price, Thomson and Graham on. There is an argument that the presumptive “top team” we saw today may now have had their chance.
Scotland on this showing now have a massive question mark even over their ability to get out of the pool, and a tournament that once looked full of eastern promise now looks like the usual struggle for something approaching respectability. With a single penalty the only score, there was very little of that today.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: very difficult to pick one as almost everyone in the starting XV made key mistakes at exactly the wrong time. So you could give it to, say, Fraser Brown who probably didn’t anticipate playing much of his first game back from injury as a makeshift openside and made a decent fist of it.