‘Ireland were there for the taking’: the Scottish press react
Regrets? Scotland will have a few after Joe Schmidt’s side are victorious at Murrayfield
A dejected Finn Russell after Scotland’s defeat to Ireland. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It wasn’t particularly pretty, but Ireland have got their Six Nations campaign back on track.
The defending champions beat Scotland 22-13 at Murrayfield on Saturday, bouncing back after their opening round defeat to England.
It was a strange game - exciting but in a slightly haphazard manner, with neither side able to assert much control during a frantic opening half.
Joe Schmidt’s side put the squeeze on after the break, dominating territory and possession, but they were unable to force a fourth try and a bonus-point.
Scotland meanwhile backed themselves throughout - sticking to the running game which has made them such a thrill to watch.
But on the whole they were untidy, with a number of handling errors meaning they couldn’t truly find their rhythm in Edinburgh.
And with Ireland still looking far from their best - their confidence perhaps knocked by such a galling defeat to the English - there is a sense of what might have been among the Scottish press.
Indeed, writing in the Scotsman, Andy Harrow suggests Gregor Townsend’s side left behind a golden opportunity to upset the world’s second-ranked side on Saturday.
He writes: “In an offensive sense, Scotland regularly worked themselves into good attacking positions, only to throw forwards, or knock on, or give away a penalty.
“They continually let the Irish off the hook when they could have had them pinned to the wall, wriggling and helpless. Ireland were there for the taking, but the Scots couldn’t take advantage.”
After Conor Murray’s 17th-minute try, which stemmed from a mistake by Sean Maitland, Scotland were never ahead in the game, with the visitors constantly keeping them at arm’s length.
Yet despite this, there seems to be an overriding feeling of regret among Scottish pundits, including former Scotland and Lions coach Ian McGeechan.
In the Sunday Telegraph, he writes: “Scotland will be kicking themselves this morning. Ireland were there for the taking and they let them off the hook due as much to their own errors as Ireland’s good play. . .
“. . .But 14 handling errors in the second half? That is effectively 14 turnovers. You just can’t afford to do that in international rugby. Certainly not against Ireland, albeit an out-of-sorts Ireland.”
As a spectacle Saturday’s game was deprived much of its stardust when both sides were shorn of their undisputed heavyweights in the first half.
First, Scotland’s Stuart Hogg was forced off with a shoulder injury after a collision with the excellent Peter O’Mahony, and then Ireland’s Johnny Sexton failed a HIA after receiving what Schmidt called, “a stamp on the head.”
As Aidan Smith writes in the Scotsman: “In the second half Ireland killed the errors and Scotland didn’t. Scotland missed Hogg more than Ireland missed Sexton.”
This is a view echoed by McGeechan, who praised the impact made by Ireland’s replacement outhalf: “Joey Carbery made a difference when he came on.
“He was one of their positives, showing great bravery in defence and givign Ireland a better tempo.”
On a day when Ireland’s attack was too narrow and they struggled to find a way around, or through, the blue wall in front of them, one of the areas they were able to dominate was the set-piece.
Despite Devin Toner’s absence, they won 11 of their 11 lineouts, while the visiting scrum proved superior.
Iain Morrison, also in the Scotsman, writes: “If the execution of set-piece was poor, the set-piece itself was creaking like a Hammer horror film.
“The scrum struggled after the frontrow subs joined the fray and three lineout throws went astray; enough turnover possession to negate all of Jamie Ritchie’s Herculean efforts at the breakdown.”
Keith Earls was forced off at half-time against England, shipping a couple of heavy early hits and being forced off with a hip injury.
However, he was one of Ireland’s standout performers at Murrayfield, with his defensive work in the opening half complemented by a crucial score in the second.
And his efforts didn’t go unnoticed in Scotland, Harrow again writes: “If his defensive abilities were to the fore in the first half, he showed what a threat he could be in the second, charging forward and over the line to stretch Ireland’s advantage.
“The Irishman showed match-winning attributes at both ends of the pitch in an impressive display which overshadowed those in blue.”
It was clear while Ireland got back to winning ways, they were below their best. And McGeechan believes they have plenty to work on if they are going to defend their title.
He writes: “Ireland were no more than ordinary. And Joe Schmidt needs to do something about the slow ball because Sexton is repeatedly getting clattered.”
But while it wasn’t a vintage performance from Ireland, it was one which showed plenty of steel and spine, and it keeps their Six Nations candle burning.
According to McGeechan, “Scotland should not have lost, though. That is the bottom line.”
Ireland won, and their campaign if firmly back on track.
That, is the bottom line.