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RBS 6 Nations: Scotland 29 – 22 Ireland

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Intriguing weekend action

 

Scotland deservedly beat Ireland in rousing opening fixture

An exciting opening fixture where six tries were shared. Joe Schmidt can cite all he wants on delays in arrival to the grounds affecting team performance but the fact of the matter was that Scotland were the more hungrier, more organized and more creative side on the day. They thoroughly deserved their win. Ireland must go reflect and execute a more precise game plan going forward.

Scotland on the front foot early doors

The hosts took the game to Ireland from the start, winning the game line battle and identifying narrow defensive shape from Ireland. Stuart Hogg was sublime throughout; you give this guy any space and he will exploit to the full. His try was sensational and showcased his ability to identify space between Earls and Kearney but with this you need serious pace to execute and no-one from Ireland laid a finger on the full back.

Scotland were looking to create in that opening period and their creative lineout move stunned Ireland; it was such a pivotal score immediately after Ireland’s first try of the contest. Ireland’s video analysis today would have being painful to watch, the lack of communication in the line was abysmal. No player identifying Dunbar in the lineout; no realization of the impending danger. Conor Murray has being blamed for the score but I think the lineout generals (Best, Toner, Henderson) need to carry some of the can. Leadership was sorely lack from Ireland’s pack in the opening period and Scotland’s try encapsulated everything which went wrong. Dunbar had plenty to do when he received the ball but lack of awareness from Ireland proved fatal. Murray’s tackle was too little, too late. This was the pivotal point of the contest.

Scotland have being knocking on the door in recent seasons against Ireland and there was going to be no repeat of past losses. The Scotland pack to a man produced a performance full of work rate and intent. The dynamic game plan of Scotland in the opening period was compared to Ireland who looked for host mistakes to get a foothold in the contest. A far cry from the comments of Joe Schmidt in the leadup to this contest looking for his side to be more expansive. It is a distinct work in progress after this performance.

Scotland expansive game plan

The talk of Scotland continuing their focus on Conor Murray was a sideshow as Scotland aimed their point of attack at the three quarters. Ringrose had a torrid afternoon trying to read Scotland attacks throughout. The first try was one the Leinster star will not want to see again; in no man’s land albeit he was not the only one guilty of this. Castres exposed defensive misreads in the final pool game, expect opposition to target the thirteen channel more in the coming games. Ringrose with ball in hand is a joy to watch but both Henshaw and Ringrose need to communicate better in defensive scenarios. Jared Payne’s communication and defensive nous was sorely missed yesterday. Ringrose was not the only player to experience a torrid afternoon.

Ireland sluggish

Apart from the front row in the scrum, all other units had distinct off days. The Ireland lineout malfunctioned at an alarming rate during this contest. Best struggles with his second and third options increased with no Peter O’Mahoney in the ranks. O’Mahoney was a massive loss for his work rate at the breakdown and the fringes but his lineout ability has being underappreciated. Best and Toner lineout read were predictable and were being read by Scotland. The scrum had its moments but Poite was indecisive in calling penalties in this area. The ball presentation from Ireland for Murray at rucks was shocking at times; the ball was so slow and ponderous. Murray struggled to give Jackson the time to launch his three quarters as a result. Jackson tried hard but there was minimal success in line breaks. The back row lacked dynamism in the breakdown; Van der Flier’s omission was more questionable as the game wore on. Three very similar players started this contest, excellent ball carriers but who was getting to the breakdown first? It was a very disjointed pack performance. Van der Flier’s introduction did improve matters and there will be calls for Tommy O’Donnell to get a recall due to his pace and ball carrying performances for Munster this season. Ireland’s pack need to pick up the performance. Several players may have played themselves out of a Lions tour already.

Ireland precision off

The lack of Ireland precision in defensive and offensive scenarios was untypical of a team coached by Joe Schmidt. The offload from Jamie Heaslip to Robbie Henshaw in the second half which to be fair was superbly taken by Maitland encapsulated the point perfectly; lack of protection of the ball. The other example of this was the penalty with nine minutes go which gave Scotland the opportunity to regain the lead that they would never relinquish. Just what Paddy Jackson was thinking coming in from the side, not releasing the player with the ball was a classic lapse of focus. It was a mistake which has defined Ulster’s season and it spread to the international team. A serious reality check for all concerned with Ireland.

Half Back Options (Lack Of)

I think the fact that both Murray and Jackson were on the pitch for the entire game showed you everything you need to know on what Schmidt thought of the depth at his disposal on the bench. Keatley was obviously emergency cover; would not get on unless Jackson went off injured. Marmion is an excellent player but Schmidt felt that Murray was the better option. What does that say for Ireland and their lack of depth in these positions? Murray is a pivotal cog in the team; if he goes down injured, both country and province are doomed. Murray had a tough afternoon yesterday; his decision to launch a box kick with four minutes to go was more because he could see that the pack had nothing left in the tank to ball carry but the subsequent chase from Ireland was like the day in general; a mess. Jackson was also having a mixed afternoon; his penalty kicking after the opening effort was on point but he was not allowed to impose his attacking game plan as Finn Russell won the duel. A serious issue for Ireland going forward, needs to be addressed ahead of the next RWC.

Scotland – Where now?

The performance was on point from Scotland. The challenge is to backup the performance next week on the road in Paris. Scotland’s passion has never being questioned but the game management and tactics certainly have. The scrum is still a source of huge concern but their lineout fired well. Gray brothers were collective phenomenal. Richie Gray’s tackle count was insane and set the tone for the rest of the pack. The back row won their battle; they were superior in clearout and ball presentation to Laidlaw who was unerring on penalty kicks. The back line now has serious potential. Dunbar is a superb prospect; under rated player but his try yesterday has brought his name into the Lions squad reckoning. Maitland was solid in both ball in hand and defensive duties. His interception of Heaslip’s offload to Henshaw was a key moment. Hogg was sublime. This result will only boost confidence and performance levels for Scotland. The only warning is that Scotland at times played the offside rule to the maximum. Poite was weak in this area; players lying on the wrong side, not making an effort to roll away may be punished by another officiating crew. It is refreshing to see Scotland win and get their tournament off to a flyer; a win against France would be sensational and launch Scotland into the championship reckoning.