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Liam Toland: Clinical Ireland do their job with distinction

Scotland were firstly not allowed to play but also, worryingly for them, failed to perform

For me, Gregor Townsend’s pre-match interview was fascinating. When the Scottish coach was asked what he said to his team before leaving them on the pitch, he responded: “Deliver your best performance”.

No, no, no, no not your best? Ireland didn't win their opening Rugby World Cup by doing their best, but by doing their job – the difference in elite sport.

Many moments illustrate this, but when we look at a vulnerable Irish breakdown we find one such example. Garry Ringrose carried a one out pass around the fringes of the Scottish defence and was immediately vulnerable to blue jerseys.

Then, go tobann, the two Irish props, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong, came barrelling in, low as the grass and smashed Hamish Watson, the only Scot that could affect a turnover, backwards. Unfortunately Watson's match was over, but both Ringrose and the ball remained Irish.

This act, I guarantee you, will not make Healy or Furlong's player rating in today's papers but this is what Joe Schmidt wanted from his Irish team and was the difference between Ireland and Scotland. Do your job.

Ireland's lineout was vulnerable going into yesterday's game. The lineout manager did his job, ditto Rory Best. The first two lineouts were not to the talisman James Ryan, but to Peter O'Mahony. The first, a shortened one, went to O'Mahony at the front. The second went to O'Mahony again but this time at the tail. The third went to Iain Henderson with Josh van der Flier at scrumhalf and the fourth went once again to Henderson and resulted in Best's try.

Four lineouts with variety and accuracy, simple and quick and Scotland couldn't lay a glove all the way to the try line. The lineout did its job. Scotland's didn't. This must have been a huge emotional drain on the Scottish as they would've targeted this apparent Irish weakness.

Another perceived weakness would have been the Irish back three – positionally, aerially and defensively. This was an area where both Finn Russell and especially Stuart Hogg were expecting superiority, one where I was openly concerned for how much ball Hogg received in the opening quarter.

But his contribution negatively impacted the Scottish through inaccurate kicking, offloads and even a turnover on the deck while the Irish back three excelled with Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour especially good in the air (and on the ground!).

Defensive decision

Scottish ingenuity did bring the odd troubled Irish defensive decision, where at the end of the first quarter Jacob Stockdale, off an attacking left field scrum play from Scotland, was forced into a tough decision.

Blindside winger Sean Maitland had started his run in the shadows of Russell and drifted into midfield to create the decision-making picture. Stockdale went for broke but couldn't get to him, giving Scotland a quick hands opportunity to score. Alas their skills under pressure let them down as has been the case for too long.

Then Stockdale had another defensive decision, in similar circumstances. This time it was Hogg who presented on 34 minutes when Stockdale’s massive onrushing frame caught Hogg’s eyeline, forcing a sloppy left hand pass which bobbled forward.

Off the resultant scrum Conor Murray repeated the simple one out play, only this time to his blindside winger who chipped, chased and gathered and it was now Hogg's turn to tackle. But he couldn't. Murray, who ran a lung-bursting support line, didn't get the return that would have been a certain try but it once again illustrated the difference. One team trying their best, the other doing their job.

The scrum, most notably when the replacements Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter came on, also did its job in denying any platform to Scotland who once the rain came down were on a hiding to nothing.

Ireland were not interested in the misfortunes of Scotland and were entirely focussed on themselves, which was especially important when factoring in the on field injury list. This is yet another testament to Schmidt's reign. The cabinet reshuffle of players required to keep 15 men on the field meant Niall Scannell and centre Chris Farrell ended up packing down on the flanks of the Irish scrum; neither looked out of place. They did their job!

Forget the score and remember the win, but do remember the cause for both. The Irish defensive line speed was varied (unlike South Africa’s) and especially effective in forcing the Scots into a top-end accuracy in unsuitable conditions, taking both Russell and Hogg into dark places.

Have problems

Remember the defensive interactions between Van der Flier and Larmour tackling and stealing off Maitland. Remember Conway challenging in the air before scoring moments later. Remember the ruthless breakdown and the Irish lineout; 12 from 12. Remember the opening try scorers, forwards 5, 2 and 3. But most of all remember that all 23 Irish players, especially 80 minutes Best, simply did their job.

Scotland have problems and they start with their legendary scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw and the secondrows. Neither secondrow impacted physically and as soon as Laidlaw's replacement Ali Price arrived, even in torrid conditions, Scotland began to motor.

It begs the question, with Ireland’s upcoming challenges how would their brutally ruthless possession focused performance have coped had the weather been better and had Price started?

In one sense it is immaterial but in acknowledging the brilliance of Ireland’s use of the set piece, defensive line speed and possession in both halves (dry and wet) one has to temper all emotions with the realisation that Scotland were firstly not allowed to play but also, worryingly for them, couldn’t play.

PS. Can referees please, please punish the offside line, dangerous high hits and illegal scrums?

liamtoland@yahoo.com

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