Generals let us down as we failed to close out a tight game again
‘We’ve got to be honest, we need a big improvement,” said one coach. We all know what happened on the scoreboard but how good were the victors? When a vastly depleted Ireland reached sufficient pace, Scotland looked extremely vulnerable. The other coach stated that we must “learn how to finish out tight matches”. Seriously, was this a tight match? Even with all the injuries Ireland faced my heart sank as it should never have come to that.
A coaching ticket cobbled together to give direction and confidence has achieved enormously for Scotland and they and their players deserve huge credit. But what of Ireland? Last Friday’s article was based on weaknesses contained deep inside Scotland, much of which came to fruition, such as one up missed tackles in midfield and the Scottish breakdown, which was meek. Nothing I saw yesterday has changed my mind. In this environment of total dominance your generals manufacture the scores – ours didn’t.
Scotland’s set-piece, however, was magnificent and requires immediate reaction from Ireland. The first scrum penalty came deep inside Scotland’s 22 where Seán O’Brien slipped up off Tom Court’s rear, depowering Court. This was not as costly as the scrum penalty conceded outside our 22 on 58 minutes. Ten minutes earlier Ireland won a scrum penalty when the Irish backrow were totally committed. But on 58 minutes Scotland got a slight eight-man nudge on our put in and both Irish flankers slipped off their props, making them vulnerable. The score shifted from six points to nine with the energy swinging to Scotland. No amount of ball-carrying can make up for this loss of backrow concentration.
The hitherto peerless Rory Best struggled at lineout time, where it is never easy to find your target against the beanpoles of Scotland. More’s the pity as our lineout maul was much steadier, solid and patient in its make up than Scotland’s and could have reaped reward had the ball found its target. It reflects poorly on Seán Cronin as he was not introduced.
Countless times Ireland did damage Scotland but it took till the 43rd minute to put real pace on multi-phases. O’Brien, who had a mighty match ball in hand, slipped past Ross Ford for open territory. Deep inside Scotland’s half he crucially managed brilliant ball placement to afford Conor Murray an immediate whip away, which eventually brought Rob Kearney on to a straight line, which Sean Lamont failed entirely to defend. Ford, having worked very hard to get back on his try line once again, missed his tackle, allowing Craig Gilroy’s beautiful pirouette try. Pretty simple: pace, sharp breakdown and hard running which Scotland couldn’t cope with. Why not more often?