It may not have been pretty but the end justified the means for Ireland as Joe Schmidt’s pack took the game away from Scotland in the second half to secure a nine point victory. In a game played in blustery conditions, Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the result and post-game talking points.
Dominant Scotland start
The first ten minutes saw Scotland start with tempo and attacking threat. The usual suspects for Scotland looking to create gain line breaks. Strauss, Gilchrist and Hogg all involved early with Finn Russell looking to orchestrate the game from the ten jersey.
The early dominance potentially could have led to more than the three points for Scotland. Greig Laidlaw slotted over after their initial concerted attacking salvo was stopped by a determined Ireland defensive line. Hogg’s afternoon ended prematurely with injury as Blair Kinghorn was summoned from the bench. 3-0.
Ireland respond in quick fashion
Ireland had precious little to offer from an attacking sense but they were in front on eleven minutes. Good hands from Ireland in midfield saw Jacob Stockdale put in a kick deep into Scotland territory. Chris Farrell pressure on Tommy Seymour seeing the Glasgow Warriors winger to throw a panicked pass to Sean Maitland which flew over the Saracens winger’s head. Conor Murray on hand to collect the ball and score. Sexton who was receiving treatment for an injury snatched at the conversion. 3-5.
Six minutes later, Ireland extended their lead with the move of the game. Ireland in midfield looking to setup go forward ball. The ball finally came to Sexton who spotted Stockdale with a fine running line inside. The pass was precision personified and Stockdale was through. With Hogg off the pitch, Stockdale was untouched as he dived for his try under the posts. Murray slotted over the extras. 3-12.
Sexton injury sees Carbery game time
The crunching tackle on Sexton from Allan Dell was the cue for the Leinster Rugby fly-half to call it quits. Joey Carbery was summoned from the bench and his initial cameos were good, looking to take the attacking play to Scotland with flat running lines and passes to colleagues.
However, the tactic was executed once too often as Finn Russell identified the opportunity to come out from the defensive line and intercept just inside Scotland’s half. Russell was stopped just short of the try line by Keith Earls but the composure of the Racing 92 fly-half to remain calm to identify a supporting runner was to the fore; a delicate pass to Sam Johnson to score. A bad moment for Carbery. A great opportunity for Scotland to get back into the contest. 10-12.
Pivotal exchange on half-time
Scotland buoyed by the Johnson try and the success of their kick game and gain line breaks in open play saw the hosts force Ireland penalty concessions. The five meter line out for Scotland the cue for an extended period of play. Phase after phase from Scotland looking for that elusive gain line break to secure the try to go into the break ahead.
Ireland’s defensive line speed was on point, not committing and looking to prevent the Scottish offloading game in the tackle. The work rate of Aki, Farrell in midfield to stem this threat noticeable. Scotland huffed and puffed but Ireland forced the unforced error from Scotland. Carbery kicked the ball into touch. 10-12. Half-time.
Decisive third quarter for Ireland
The blustery weather conditions reduced the expansive attacking game plan for both sides. The conditions saw a couple of turnovers for both sides in the opening second half exchanges; pressure from both sides in defense impressive but lack of cohesion in attacking play also self-evident.
Cue the key game winning moment of the game. Joey Carbery who was posed serious questions by Scotland in this test match received a nothing ball just inside Ireland’s half. Instead of looking to pass the ball away or kick deep, the Munster half back decided to run the ball. He beat Rob Harley and suddenly acres of ground was in front of the Athy native.
His composure to wait and identification of Keith Earls who would be applauded for reading the potential game was to the fore. An excellent sweeping pass to Earls who touched down. Carbery had arrived to this test match. His conversion unerring. 10-19.
Scotland try to fight back
A two score game and Scotland looked to score quickly but found Ireland’s back row in feisty mood. Slow ruck ball meaning that Finn Russell was unable to execute any potential dangerous Scottish attacking plays. Laidlaw had to settle for three points as Ireland defensively held their line well. 13-22.
Ireland immediately looked to secure pack platform and wear down their opposition. Several attritional phases later and Scotland were pinged for rolling away. Carbery stepped up to kick three points off the tee after a lengthy discussion with his side in the huddle. A key score. Scotland were facing down the barrel of a home loss. 13-22.
Ireland’s mantra was clear from the first minute; a win was all that mattered. The game plan was at times conservative, ball carrying approach was to rule protect then offload.
The set piece, an area of potential Irish vulnerability was the standout. 12/12 from Ireland line out. Roux, O’Mahony called the line out well, did not complicate matters and utilized the key jumpers at various points. Ultan Dillane cameo in the line out to the fore in the closing stages; a couple of quality line out takes and stole a pivotal Scottish line out close to Ireland’s line.
A performance which provides Ireland with a platform to impress for the rest of the tournament. The performance at times today was a bit rushed, composure issues with ball in hand negating the good work seen by the pack.
The Ireland back three stood up to the test today. Rob Kearney’s experience was invaluable today; his assured display under the high ball and his ball carrying provided assurance for Ireland in the back field. Earls was peppered early but settled to the task. Stockdale (my man of the match) was a threat with ball in hand whenever the ball came to the Ulster Rugby try scoring machine.
Joey Carbery and Ireland management will have learned heaps on this showing from the ten. Carbery responded to the nervy opening period cameo, it can only assist the team and the player to see the second half performance. Sexton’s injury withdrawal presented an opportunity for Schmidt to evaluate Carbery and the Athy native’s second half display was excellent.
Scotland’s loss will be a disappointment for Gregor Townsend and management. A sloppy opening try to concede provided Ireland a platform into the contest and then a defensive line failure saw Stockdale cross in quick time. The Earls try coming from a missed midfield tackle; the defensive shape once Ireland got over the gain line is something that needs to be reviewed and addressed for Scotland.
Finn Russell’s form and attacking threat was excellent. The back line had their moments but the weather conditions negated additional impact. The pack was exposed in the set piece and expect England, France and Wales to target the set piece in the coming weeks!
The bench impact was huge today. Ireland’s impact players came to the fore with key contributions. Kilcoyne set the tone early with some abrasive ball carries. Porter, Dillane, van der Flier, Cronin and Cooney provided good moments. Dillane in particular winning a penalty, two line out and a line out steal.
Quinn Roux should view today as a success. There was plenty of pressure on the player ahead of this test match but his work rate, scrummaging and line out calls were what was required on the day. Roux should look to start against Italy and provide more cameo time for Schmidt and management to see the player in full flow.
Sean O’Brien for me was the other standout performer for Ireland. His ball carrying was excellent, his breakdown work and fringe defense standout. A player who delivered for Ireland today when it was required. If the player can keep injury free, then Schmidt has a player who can deliver for the side in spades!