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.
Alas, from Marshall’s second scorching break after a delicious move featuring a decoy run by O’Driscoll, the debutant centre didn’t pull back his wayward long pass for Craig Gilroy with the try-line gaping. As wasteful was Earls veering away from O’Driscoll’s support run and being tackled into touch after Earls had beaten two men on the cutback from Jackson’s switch pass.
After two more tapped penalties to the corner and two attempted mauls were held up, eventually Heaslip settled for a routine three-pointer as the Scots lived on the edge.
However, after Gilroy finally found a way through when twisting over from Conor Murray’s blindside pass after O’Brien’s break had instigated a multi-phase attack, Jackson hit the upright with the conversion and compounded this by missing a penalty up the line.
Instead, Rob Kearney was penalised for not releasing when running the ball back and the Scots kicked up the line. It was a real momentum shift. Wayne Barnes shifted too, a 10-4 first-half penalty count flipping to 9-6 in Scotland’s favour as Greig Laidlaw landed three penalties in 11 minutes and Ireland imploded.
O’Brien, who had pushed up too quickly in conceding the first, gave away a silly penalty before Ronan O’Gara opted for a bizarre, kicked crossfield pass outside the Irish 22 which Tim Visser hacked through, and though O’Driscoll tidied it up, O’Gara missed touch and Earls was adjudged offside for Laidlaw to make it 12-8.
All of which, coupled with Jackson’s misses and the declined shots at goal, meant Ireland had to go for the corner instead of taking a straight shot at goal. Kearney was done for running into Mike Ross when taking the ball up the middle and even from the ensuing scrum penalty in over time, Marshall couldn’t gather O’Gara’s pass in front of him.
Not so much one that got away as one thrown away.
SCORING SEQUENCE: 36 mins: P Jackson pen 0-3; (half-time 0-3); 45 mins: Gilroy try 0-8; 54 mins Laidlaw pen 3-8; 60 mins: Laidlaw pen 6-8; 64 mins: Liadlaw pen 9-8; 74 mins: Laidlaw pen 12-8.
SCOTLAND: S Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); S Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), S Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), M Scott (Edinburgh), T Visser (Edinburgh); R Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), G Laidlaw (Edinburgh); R Grant (Glasgow Warriors), R Ford (Edinburgh), G Cross (Edinburgh), R Gray (Sale Sharks), J Hamilton (Gloucester), R Harley (Glasgow Warriors), K Brown (Saracens, capt), J Beattie (Montpellier). Replacements: M Low (Glasgow Warriors) for Harley (19-26 mins), D Hall (Glasgow Warriors) for Ford (46 mins), D Denton (Edinburgh) and A Kellock (Glasgow Warriors) for Brown (46-51 mins) and Beattie (72 mins), D Weir (Glasgow Warriors) for Jackson (60 mins), Kellock for Hamilton (72 mins), Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors) for Cross (76 mins). Not used: Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Castres Olympique). Sin-binned: Grant (16-26 mins).
IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); C Gilroy (Ulster), B ODriscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); P Jackson (Ulster), C Murray (Munster); T Court (Ulster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D OCallaghan (Munster), D Ryan (Munster), P OMahony (Munster), S OBrien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt). Replacements: D Kilcoyne (Munster) for Court (56 mins), L Fitzgerald (Leinster) for Gilroy (60 mins), R OGara (Munster) for Jackson (65 mins), E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray (70 mins), D Toner (Leinster) for O’Callaghan, I Henderson (Ulster) for O’Mahony (both 72 mins). Not used: S Cronin (Leinster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU).