Liam Toland: Scottish errors may not save us at the World Cup
Errors by the hosts not limited to time with ball in hand, but also out of possession
Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony on the ball during the Six Nations match against Scotland at Murrayfield. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Peter O’Mahony was man-of-the-match in a crucial game low on skill but high, very high, on mentality. Had Ireland lost this game it would have been a mighty blow below the World Cup water line.
Ireland should never have come close to losing this game when factoring in how awful Scotland were at times, so error-prone that I wondered aloud were their players all working nights last week. Ireland did not lose, and will take major positives. What a defeat could have done to the Irish mentally would have been unthinkable.
Round one in Dublin was all about blueprints. It was about England’s methodology in negating so much of Joe Schmidt’s technical prowess around the box kick, outplaying and shutting down the Irish wide game. Scotland were always going to be an entirely different proposition. The English blueprint would be impossible to create. So what happened?
Scotland have so much talent who can play at times a brand of rugby that I really want to watch. I found myself at times shouting support in a vain attempt to get them to make that last crucial pass or select the right play. Not because I wanted them to win, but because it’s so infuriating to watch their error count building in the knowledge that the Irish players and management would also spot the errors and react accordingly.
To be fair to both sides, the conditions were difficult. That said, you have to ask yourself if the home team adapted to the conditions, which were well flagged, as well as the the visiting team. Ireland reacted, with players like Jacob Stockdale using all his physique and pace off Johnny Sexton in exposing an ill-disciplined Scottish side.
When I say ill-disciplined I’m thinking of Scotland shutting off at crucial times – dropped balls, pushed passes, forward passes and a defence that wasn’t concentrating and executing when necessary. The Scottish errors weren’t limited to their time with the ball in hand, but equally when they didn’t have possession.
Conor Murray kicked as he has done so many times before, but often went a wee bit longer, with the scrumhalf opting to keep the ball in play. This may have been a nod to the Scottish lineout or simply a tactical ploy to invite a Scottish counter and the inevitable error. Either way Murray was backing his defence. The Irish lineout, with so many changes, performed 100 per cent. The scrum I’ll address below.
As Scotland drifted into an error-strewn phase Ireland cleverly switched tempo and tactics – lineout, mauls etc...An added bonus to this process would be big ball carriers. Irish forwards carry but unfortunately for very limited yardage. Chris Farrell has already shown this season he is able to dismantle sides – witness his man-of-the-match performance against a poor Edinburgh in Cork. For Ireland it was a powerful performing Rob Kearney and Stockdale who racked up the metres gained – there’s no issue there but with Farrell being so big and athletic given the right opportunity he’ll create huge value for those around him.
Areas of concern? The closing scrum, the defensive decision-making in the wider channels and the inability to carry the ball away from the deep trenches.
On Friday I noted the opportunities that went a begging in the Aviva when England’s scrum was vulnerable. The last three scrums in Edinburgh provided a further window into that world.
The third scrum was a major struggle, but the second of those closing three set-pieces on 77 minutes resulted in a penalty for Scotland. The fixture was dead at this point, so no harm done, but imagine we have that same scrum against South Africa in the closing minutes of a World Cup quarter-final. Would a similar outcome cost Ireland an historic semi-final? Tendai Mtawarira, the “Beast”, will be one who will maximise this potential.
At the heart of this is time played. Tadhg Furlong is our world-class tighthead, with Andrew Porter behind him. But how much pitch time is Porter actually getting? Ten minutes here and there?
Even with Leinster he is not getting the minutes in the one position where training is less effectual. Game-time must provide the only real learning environment. Porter is Schmidt’s number two tighthead and must get more, much more, game-time in preparation for facing the “Beast”.
For obvious individual and unit rustiness reasons, the defensive reading from Ireland’s 13, 14 and 15 (and 11) is not quite on the money. For example, just before half time Kearney made a read and hit on the Scottish wide play on the 23rd phase. Huw Jones was 8m from the Irish touchline and 10m from the Irish try line. Stockdale was bursting a gut to get to Jones when Kearney stepped in to smash the Scottish centre.
The problem was that Tommy Seymour was free in the tram tracks. A quality pass and Seymour scores. Jones’s pass forced Seymour to check and the try was gone, with Stockdale slipping past Kearney to pull him down. Decisions such as these are costly when teams like Argentina are flying high and accurate. World Cup semi-final teams, that is.
A good metal win for Ireland, but I wonder what the conditions will be like on Sunday, September 22nd, in Yokohama City when we meet Scotland? Scottish errors may not save us then!