Ireland are back on track because Scotland are a dangerous side

Ireland are back on track because Scotland are a dangerous side
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony takes on Scotland's Simon Berghan. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IT was never going to be the movie playbook of the stung heroes blowing Scotland out the gate as revenge for the England game.

Scotland are too good for that fantasy and Ireland were playing away from home, which is never easy in the Six Nations. Murrayfield, previously under Vern Cotter and now Gregor Townsend, is a particularly difficult place to go, so for Ireland to win with a nine-point cushion is no mean feat.

Don’t get me wrong: Ireland didn’t play all that well here, but what they did do was revert successfully to the strong-arm gameplan that provided such success in 2018.

Our box-kicking was poor, we turned over the ball 16 times, through a combination of botched running lines, poor passing and subpar handling, but there was still enough in the tank to see Scotland off with comfort. This game wasn’t about beating Scotland with running rugby.

As per usual with Scotland (and for Scotland see Glasgow), the path to victory is to punish them up-front, until they gas out, and then pick off the scores when the spaces appear.

Throwing the ball around against this Scotland side is like shooting it out with the cowboy wearing the white clothes, toting ivory-handled pistols, and thumbing up a diamante studded hat.

Scotland’s Kryptonite is enduring relentless forward pressure in games where they lose the possession battle. Five of Scotland’s forward pack made 20+ tackles, while only two of their forwards made positive carrying contributions.

If you want a picture of this game, you just have to imagine Scotland’s forwards tackling the likes of Furlong, Ryan, O’Brien, Kilcoyne, Healy and Conan over and over again, while being smashed in the tackle themselves.

For all the invention of Finn Russell, Sam Johnson and Huw Jones, it’s very hard to win rugby games when you’re looking to attack on kick transition and off lineout schemes.

Scotland were dangerous when they generated quick ball and an angle to work with, but that wasn’t often enough to do the damage.

The try count of three to one in Ireland’s favour reflects the nature of the game in some respects.

Keith Earls scores the third try. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Keith Earls scores the third try. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

A lot of what Scotland did behind the forwards looked good but wasn’t all that effective. A lot of what Ireland did looked ugly as sin, but still yielded results.

Test level is like that, sometimes. The relative comfort of the end game came off the back of a bit of Joey Carbery magic. The Munster out-half didn’t have a very good intro to the game.

Sexton had just created a superb try for Stockdale, but took a lot of punishment on the gain line, as a result.

That was duplicated a few times in the build-up to his eventual substitution, in the 23rd minute, but I’d doubt the Leinster fly-half will be complaining too much.

Yeah, Scotland were sticking one on him, but I’d be very reluctant to call any of the shots overtly wreckless. Sexton plays on the edge and on the gain-line and that comes with the kind of punishment he took here.

Carbery wasn’t on the field five minutes and he threw an intercept pass when he thought he was on a knock-on advantage, before making another defensive error that took Ireland 28 phases to rectify.

Lesser players might have shrunk with such an introduction, but Carbery turned the bus around with some sharp carries, excellent touch finders, and crisp passing. 

Joey Carbery competes for a high ball with Sean Maitland. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joey Carbery competes for a high ball with Sean Maitland. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In the 55th minute, he effectively killed off the game for Scotland. He found a bit of broken field and scorched past a few flailing Scottish forwards — thank the Irish carries in the first half for that one — before swerving up the field and finding Keith Earls with a beaut of a pass off his right side.

In the 68th minute, he drained another penalty to take the game beyond any realistic Scottish heroics. A bad start, but a clinical, effective finish; petty much like Ireland as a whole in this game, in a lot of ways.

A lot of talk will focus on what this means in relation to the loss against England.

Are Ireland back? Yeah, kind of. 

Were Ireland at their best here? No. 

Does that take away from the achievement of beating a very game and very dangerous Scottish side, in pretty much exactly the way they might have envisioned, despite losing Sexton early on? No.

So, Ireland head into the fallow week with a spring in their step and the chance to get some vital bodies back in the two weeks before the game against Italy, where we’ll probably see a bit of rotation all over the squad.

For now, though, there’s much to work on, but much to be happy about if you’re Joe Schmidt.

The bus is back on the road.

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