Schmidt’s men establish the necessary platform
But plenty of room for improvement in advance of the expected massive Welsh challenge
Peter O’Mahony drives forward during the Six Nations match against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Inpho
For Brian O’Driscoll’s last Six Nations and Joe Schmidt’s first it was crucial for Ireland to get the job done. That’s exactly what they did and in doing so they have created a platform to build momentum and belief throughout the players and management.
This is especially important with the red circus arriving into town next Saturday. Ireland certainly didn’t have it all their way – especially at the breakdown where Scotland at times bullied and harassed to significantly slow Irish ball.
Not until Johnny Sexton’s electric run before half-time or the late on wrap-around balls did Ireland gain yards.
In the meantime it was all about the process and in Peter O’Mahony Ireland had a man totally focused on the down and dirty of leading in the absence of Paul O’Connell.
His breakdown work was exceptional in technique but especially in timing. Time and again Scotland worked their way deep into Irish territory but they wasted the opportunities through a malfunctioning lineout or due to an especially well-timed steal from O’Mahony. Pinching the ball at this level is extremely tough – even more so when retreating.
On 57 minutes O’Mahony, tracking back to cover a poor Irish tackle, put his hands on the Scottish player while in an offside position before swinging his feet into an onside position and effecting a steal.
Scotland did ask questions of Ireland. Ireland committed specific numbers to the breakdown and Scotland exposed this at times by pouring more through aggressively to slow the ball.
They also attacked Sexton’s channel off set pieces. Off one right hand attacking scrum right wing Sean Maitland carried from his outhalf to hit Sexton. This pre-rehearsed move fixed Luke Marshall to the evolving threat around the openside of the ruck.
O’Driscoll was then forced to move in creating a two-on- one defence for Andrew Trimble to manage. This he did partly because of his good defensive ability, O’Driscoll’s unreal ability to stay alive to the threat and Scotland’s inability to convert the move. They struggled terribly from lineout malfunction especially deep in Ireland’s 22 which let Ireland off the hook.
Scotland’s tactics created defensive challenges and in the second quarter holes appeared in the Irish midfield which the visitors failed to exploit. Wales may take note.
Without Sean O’Brien’s yards after contact Ireland struggled to go forward so the processes were so important. The scrum was a fascinating battle with Cian Healy dropping extremely low getting under Moray Low, twisting him inward before driving him upwards. Dan Tuohy was no slouch behind.
The scrum provided Ireland great opportunity and one turnover scrum led to Jamie Heaslip’s lineout maul try. In O’Connell’s absence it was great to see the pressure Ireland still mustered on the Scots’ lineout. They got into the air to challenge and even on the ground managed to steal a couple through Toner and Mike Ross.
From Scottish kick offs, each time Ireland fielded the ball they found O’Mahony in midfield who trucked it out of the Irish 22. Then Sexton Garryowened from the pocket landing the ball into recoverable territory. This is a new strategy and gave our wingers great opportunity but it also kept Ireland in their own half for far too long. Would this tactic work against Wales?
Rob Kearney has reacted really positively to Schmidt’s new regime by powering into Scottish loose kicks with a greater intent to counterattack. More please. Ireland’s first score came from such a return by Kearney who was very vulnerable to a breakdown steal but Low gave away a penalty and Ireland got on the scoreboard.
In O’Connell’s absence, Tuohy got a chance to stand tall and did. The bench and especially Marty Moore made an impact, with Sean Cronin hitting his targets and Jack McGrath being very busy.
The lineout , maul and scrum performed but will face significantly more pressure next weekend when it is the Irish multiphase play that’ll capture my attention. At times it looked crisp and threatening but for huge swathes of time there was no significant gaining of ground.
Heaslip and Healy were massive ball-carriers as were the Kearney brothers but the Irish pack will need to contribute more yards next week.
In essence a win was a great start, a momentum-builder. There were sufficient aspects of shoddy play that will require improvement as the team focuses upon the massive Welsh challenge.