Saturday 23 February 2019

Brent Pope: 'Plenty of room for improvement for nervy Ireland'

Ireland's Conor Murray (right) celebrates scoring his side's first try of the game during the Guinness Six Nations match at BT Murrayfield
Ireland's Conor Murray (right) celebrates scoring his side's first try of the game during the Guinness Six Nations match at BT Murrayfield
Keith Earls, centre, of Ireland celebrates after scoring his side's third try with teammates Joey Carbery, behind, and Conor Murray during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at the BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Brent Pope

AS expected Ireland bounced back with a 22-13 win against Scotland on Saturday that still keeps them in the hunt for another Six Nations title.

However, it was not the spine-tingling, passion laced backlash we had perhaps hoped for rather an efficient display by Joe Schmidt's men in Murrayfield.

The margin would suggest a comfortable enough win but it wasn't really, in the end the difference was that Ireland just had more physicality, discipline and control on the match.

The win was important, as it technically keeps Ireland in the hunt for another championship title, as long as someone is good enough to knock England off the top perch which will only possibly come against Wales.

A try bonus would have helped Ireland's cause immensely but in other regards Ireland couldn't complain and at one stage they may have been actually recorded two losses on the trot had Scotland not made several basic mistakes.

The old cliché that 'a win is a win' is true but it was not the backlash performance that Joe Schmidt would have craved, and Ireland will need to improve.

The turning point of the match was that Scotland to have gone into the half-time break a score ahead.

The Scots were camped on Ireland's line coming up to the interval, and when they created an overlap out wide a simple pass would have surely seen Scottish winger Sean Maitland over, but the winger had to check his stride just enough for Ireland's cover defence to bundle him into touch, another chance gone for the hosts.

Stuart Hogg, now injured on the sideline, showed his disgust at his side's inability to just keep it simple by kicking a hole in a sideline advertising hoarding in disgust.

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In the second-half Ireland took over more with a better organised, clinical control of the match, and while not particularly creative they made far less mistakes that their rivals who looked more comfortable when the game became disjointed.

That about sums up the different approaches. Scotland tried to speed the game up, vary play and create opportunities out wide, Ireland had a more predictable plan, and they let Scotland shoot themselves in the foot with schoolboy errors. Ireland dominated the set-plays and then just tightened the screws when they needed to. 

In fairness it was hard for Schmidt's men to get any quick ball. The Scots guilty of laying around the ruck far too often. Ireland then just out-muscled Scotland up front.

Post-match everyone struggled to really select a runaway 'Man of the Match' not helped by the fact that both teams lost their most influential players early on - Scotland's Stuart Hogg, after what looked an innocent enough check by Peter O'Mahony, and Johnny Sexton after repeated hits forced him off the field for a head assessment.

In the end Ireland's blindside flanker O'Mahony was adjudged the best player on the field for his prowess at lineout time and his excellent turnover work, others in contention for the honour on the day would have  been the returning full-back Rob Kearney, tireless flanker Seán O'Brien, Conor Murray and James Ryan.

Ireland's backline, although responsible for a number of line breaks, mostly from full-back Kearney, looked too predictable at times.

The Irish centre partnership of  Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell dwarfed their opponents, and while physical and strong in the tackle, in my opinion the Irish midfield elected to run straight at the Scottish defence too many times. It became all too predictable.

Garry Ringrose's guile was missed in this regard, a blend of power and pace is what all centre partnerships are about. 

Wingers Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale were industrious, with Earls tight on defence, and Stockdale creating the game's best try. But Ireland's flyers never enjoyed much ball in space, and were largely confined to defensive roles.

After a slow enough start, and an intercepted pass by his opposite Finn Russell, replacement outhalf Joey Carbery grew into the game with an excellent break and floated pass for Keith Earls try.

Given Sexton's head assessment Carbery will start against Italy and more game time is critical for the talented playmaker.

It was a nervous enough performance and after the defeat to England and the fact it was an away game that is to be expected.

Schmidt will take the win, learn from it and I expect Ireland to improve and gear up suitably for  the crucial games against France and Wales.

For this one the report card reads, B-. Decent win, but can do better.

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