Criticisms are warranted but we didn't get rub of green
The damaging reverberations from Murrayfield are liable to tremor for quite a while. Most of all, as the modern-day thirst for blood demands an immediate scapegoat, the defeat may have done irreparable damage to Declan Kidney and his coaching regime.
Such a demoralising defeat has also damaged Jamie Heaslip’s captaincy, the collective confidence of the team and some Lions ambitions.
Ireland’s first-half performance showed they were well prepared, focused and had correctly identified weaknesses in the Scottish game. And is it the coaches’ fault chances were butchered?
There was also another strong response to the half-time interval – Ireland have scored first in the second half of all three games.
But there was also another failure to really see out a game over 80 minutes. Ireland have lost the last 35 minutes to Wales 19-0, the last 20 to England 6-0, and the last half-hour to Scotland 12-0.
Worsening discipline under pressure is another recurring theme, without sufficient demands for better on the pitch.
There’s a lack of leadership perhaps, and certainly a lack of confidence, as well as composure, in the team’s ranks amid all the negativity swirling around them.
It’s also true the one-paced lineout was an accident waiting to happen, as was the gamble on Paddy Jackson or, more specifically, on not having a frontline goal-kicker.
But had the team taken just one of the three gilt-edged chances they created for themselves – either through Luke Marshall locating Craig Gilroy or Keith Earls twice failing to find Brian O’Driscoll – it’s hard not to think Ireland wouldn’t have gone on and won, even comfortably.
In a rebuilding stage, Kidney has blooded another eight new caps this season, including Craig Gilroy and now Luke Marshall, not to mention Simon Zebo’s turn at fullback.
But the absence of three Lions has been compounded by the loss of five more frontliners in the attritional game against England. In this, you suspect, Kidney and co have been short of the most important ingredients coaches require – luck.
Had Jonny Sexton alone been playing, Ireland would assuredly have won.
It actually reflects well on Jackson that in the face of Scotland’s blitz defence, with the outhalf their main focus of attention, all three first-half line breaks were from his passes, as Ireland produced some of their most potent midfield attack in some time.
Would they have happened if Ronan O’Gara had started?
And it’s worth repeating that unlike Jackson, Ian Madigan and Ian Keatley have started one Heineken Cup match each at outhalf.
Jackson’s penalties to touch generally extracted maximum yardage, save for that one costly miss, and he tackled well when he had to.
Back in 1976 a young Irish outhalf was given his debut in a 20-10 defeat to Australia and, after missing a host of kicks, was immediately jettisoned, with many reckoning he would never play for Ireland again.
Thankfully, Noel Murphy restored him on the winning tour to Australia three years later and Ollie Campbell’s Test career was born.
Presuming Sexton’s grade two tear rules him out of the French game, then having placed his faith in him, Kidney may as well stick with the kid, but there might be merit in having Fergus McFadden on the wing.
Heaslip has been roundly condemned for not taking two shots at goal but one has a degree of sympathy for him, for clearly the captain must have been aware of Jackson’s lack of form and experience off the tee. A similar decision by Rory Best turned a 6-0 deficit into a 7-6 lead against Scotland last year.
But in the warm-up, under the watchful eye of Mark Tainton, Jackson’s only misses were from the right, yet he was asked to kick at goal from wide to the right after the Scots had been reduced to 14 men. His subsequent two misses were from the right, one hitting the post, whereas the two kicks to the corner were on the left – although one led to the close-range penalty which he landed anyway.
Another stick being used to beat Kidney is the selection of Tom Court ahead of David Kilcoyne, but as highlighted in these pages by Liam Toland yesterday, some of the scrum problems emanated from backrowers not staying with the scrum, while Kilcoyne immediately had as many problems, if not more, when he was introduced.
Strangely, a struggling set-piece was the foundation for having 80 per cent of both territory and possession.
Hence, the clearing out and collective work at the breakdown had to be good, likewise the willing carrying of all the backrowers, the work under the high ball of Gilroy, Rob Kearney and co, with the latter having his best game yet, even if he’ll regret running the ball back rather than kicking it back to concede the penalty – albeit a very harsh call against Donncha O’Callaghan for going off his feet – which gave Scotland their first foothold of the match.
The attacking shape, for the first 50 minutes or so especially, was good, changing the point of attack back inside and exposing a porous Scottish midfield, and in particular there was the emergence of Marshall as a player of genuine Test quality – thereby vindicating the fast-tracking of him into the international set-up.
Next up, though, a French team in desperate need of a win after three successive defeats, who are also struggling to see out 80 minutes and had also passed on the captaincy baton, though injury to Pascal Pape has since seen the reinstatement of Thierry Dusautoir.
They found a better balance to their starting team, if not their bench, in Twickenham, and were again left to rue some awful refereeing by their World Cup final bête noire Craig Joubert.
Ireland’s luck doesn’t look like improving any time soon.