This was not the championship decider any of us hoped for, if we’re being honest. Even had Scotland been going into this fixture with an unlikely chance of glory, the Aviva is a graveyard of Scottish dreams.
We probably still wouldn’t have been confident even without a stuttering tournament that started brightly but ended with the prospect of another off-field disciplinary episode magnifying poor performance.
It was a breathless start in the Dublin sunshine, with Darcy Graham and Ali Price picking up where they left off against Italy, the Scots playing with frenetic pace and no shortage of width.
You could say that the bullocking runs of Pierre Schoemann and chums were troubling Ireland, although nothing within threatening distance of the try line.
Somehow the visitors were achieving quick ball too which was even more of a minor miracle. Away in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day weekend, you’ll take any small slices of the famous Irish luck going spare.
It was the eighth minute before a penalty was conceded by either side. Plot twist: it was not Scotland, but they opted not to kick for points, in favour of blowing the lineout and letting the pressure off Ireland who hadn’t really been in the game to that point.
A superb 50:22 kick by Johnny Sexton gave the vaunted Irish pack a chance for a five metre lineout but Scotland managed to hold up Josh Van Der Flier over the line. At the next time of asking, Lowe tapped a penalty and Scotland were not back ten, giving away another penalty, and another.
With Scottish discipline rapidly dissolving, Sexton spurned the kick at goal and Dan Sheehan barrelled over from the maul, making their decision seem a lot wiser.
As the first quarter turned into the second quarter Ireland were now looking well in control and the error-strewn Scotland performance of the sort that has been a regular occurrence in this tournament was well underway. Ali Price had started brightly but had gone off the boil and Graham was taking out players of all sides during the kick chase.
Ireland’s second try came after half an hour minutes, Cian Healy battering over from short range and Scotland looked simply powerless to find a way into this game.
They did work their way within metres of the line with some huge effort and Pierre Schoemann – who was probably having the game of his life in a Scotland shirt – tunnelled over the line. The TMO wanted referee Wayne Barnes to chalk the try off for a double movement but Barnes stuck to his guns during a fairly pointless intervention.
Kinghorn sclaffed the conversion to make it far less of a momentum swing than they would have wanted, then Tadgh Furlong clamped over the ball at the restart and Ireland’s rolling maul was back in the corner once again. It looked like a typical shotgun-to-foot moment but Grant Gilchrist did superb work to turn the ball over.
At the scrum, Scotland compounded their one bright patch to earn a penalty and take it in to half time without further damage.
It was small, but it was at least a glimmer of hope.
Half-time Ireland 14-5 Scotland
Cut to five minutes into the second half: Scotland regather their breath, hands on knees. They’ve been defending their goal line, again, after a fierce barrage of Irish attacks has been repulsed. They’ve started brightly and won a penalty; they kick it up the park.
Jonny Gray is pulled down at the lineout, winning another penalty. Stuart Hogg hoofs it into the Irish 22 and the Scots attack again. It’s all looking better. Useful even.
Then deep passing forces Scotland back out of the 22, Pierre Schoeman elbows Iain Henderson in the tackle on the charge, and while the TMO is deciding whether or not to intervene, captain Stuart Hogg – who to that point hadn’t been awful – butchers a clear cut try going for the corner instead of passing inside where he had multiple supporting players.
Wayne Barnes let Schoemann off (it was not as bad as the handoff that Duhan was banned for) which made the captain’s error all the more painful.
Any attempts to build momentum were being savagely thrown away.
If we as fans have learned that against Ireland you need to take every single chance you get, you’d think the Scotland players who have had careers for at least as long as we’ve been watching would have figured that out by now?
Just before the hour mark, the replacement-filled Scotland scrum finally crumpled and Ireland, once again, went for the corner. Once again, they were generous with a mistake that let Scotland off, but once again Scotland were not clinical. Ireland were back in the Scotland 22 minutes later, Van Der Flier making it 21-5 on penalty advantage.
Butchered try aside, Hogg was actually having a pretty good game, with a huge touch finder giving the Scots a great platform. Then quiet Chris Harris dropped it in the tackle – maybe he should have gone to the pub after all.
Like Hogg, Kinghorn was not to blame for Scottish inabilities – the visitors were both good and awful to a man, doing one good thing then one awful thing moments later. You could see on their faces that they knew it too.
In particular the pack had not been blown away by Ireland as perhaps we feared, at least not outside of their own try line where they seemed unable to stop Ireland scoring. Rory Darge, Hamish Watson and Grant Gilchrist all made the best of things when they could.
Still, it was cruelly inevitable that even as a focused looking Finn Russell finally gave Scotland some spark on the gain line and Scotland attacked from the lineout, the pack would undo all the good efforts by failing to pick and go from metres out. Ireland, as usual, did what they needed to, as they always do.
Scotland were not blown away by the home side, if you want a straw to clutch at.
But with three scores needed, Scotland couldn’t even get one at the time of asking. Instead, Ben White was binned for a deliberate knock on and Conor Murray took a bonus point try moments later.
Which summed up Scotland’s tournament: unable to cope with what’s in front of them.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
SRBlog Player of the Match: nobody had a spotless game, and for every good point there was something dumb, brainless or dangerous. Still, Pierre Schoemann was probably the pick of the team. Honourable mention to dual opensides Rory Darge and Hamish Watson who seemed to click together and were a constant nuisance on Irish ball and could give some real headaches for selection once (the badly missed) Jamie Ritchie is fit again.