Scotland escape to victory as Ireland manage to throw and kick it away
Brian O'Driscoll is tackled by Sean Maitland just short of the try line during yesterday's game. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Scotland 12 Ireland 8:As profligate, self-inflicted defeats go this takes some beating. Players and management alike will have had some difficult sleeping last night as they reflected on this exasperating defeat, and forever more if they are ever of a mind to think of this encounter again.
For starters, there will be the unremitting dominance of the first-half, for which a 3-0 scoreline was a pathetic reflection of Ireland’s superiority, then the way Scotland were invited back into the game by a combination of ill-discipline and utter lack of composure, and the latter stayed with an increasingly panicky and jittery Ireland until the end.
Rarely has a team dominated a Six Nations match for so little return. Ireland enjoyed 80 per cent of the territory and 78 per cent of the possession in that first half, forcing the Scots to make 70 tackles while making just 15 themselves. More to the point, they made four clean line breaks but wasted all of the ensuing gilt-edged chances; butchering a couple of them.
Throw in three missed kicks out of four by Paddy Jackson, equivalent to another eight points, and the decision to decline a shot at goal to go up the line three times to a malfunctioning Irish lineout under unremitting pressure from Jim Hamilton and Richie Gray, and Ireland left a truckload of points behind them.
Lack of variety
Like so much else of Ireland’s game, and the way they stuck to the gameplan, the lack of variety out of touch – for example perhaps opting for four-man lineouts and instead launching the backrow up the middle – was never explored.
It was always a gamble to play Paddy Jackson given his form with the boot (34 out of 51 kicks for Ulster this season) and an ankle injury had conspired to prevent him from kicking at goal in a month. He was the first Irishman onto the pitch over an hour before kick-off, landing all those from in front of the posts and to the left, though he missed a couple to the right.
Much of the youngster’s running/passing game was good, as were penalties to touch but for one costly miss in the second-half. Heaslip afforded Jackson his first shot at goal from wide to the right after Ryan Grant was harshly binned, and Jackson pushed it well wide. Furthermore, Ireland had four attacking throws pilfered.
Cian Healy and Mike McCarthy were also missed in the tight five, with both Tom Court and David Kilcoyne having some troubles at scrum time, where Scotland were the masters. But that was pretty much all Scotland had to offer for the first 50 minutes, in which time they didn’t have one set-piece in Irish territory.
As feared, it quickly became apparent that Ireland were going to have to win by scoring tries, but there was still much to commend in their performance, notably the work-rate of Seán O’Brien – who made 22 carries and was a viable line-out option at the front – and Heaslip himself, along with further evidence of Luke Marshall’s rich potential on his debut.
They were also recycling the ball repeatedly and were much more accurate in their handling than had been the case against England, save for the final pass on a couple of occasions. From the first of two stunning clean breaks by Luke Marshall in the opening 10 minutes, Sean Maitland prevented Keith Earls from making a try-scoring offload to Brian O’Driscoll and then stopped O’Driscoll short of the line.