Saturday 16 December 2017

Five things we learned from Ireland's 35-25 win over Scotland

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland have beaten Scotland 35-25 in their final RBS Six Nations game. Here's what we gleaned from the encounter.

1 - The Schmidt template ain’t broke

Sure, it needs tweaking sometimes but Joe Schmidt’s game-plan looked in fine fettle against his old adversary Vern Cotter at the Aviva Stadium.

This was the best display since the win over France at the World Cup as the men in green dominated possession against a Scottish team who were coming off a six-day turnaround and looked jaded as the game went on.

It wasn’t always pretty, but it was mightily effective as Johnny Sexton orchestrated the troops from the armchair provided by a dominant forward pack who owned the collision zone and were ferocious at the breakdown.

Their pressure resulted in Scottish yellow cards and during the 20 minutes the visitors were down to 14 men, Ireland scored three tries.

They managed the scoreboard and squeezed the Scots who were forced to chase the game from the off and they picked off their errors.

The first-half was an excellent example of Schmidt’s game at its very best and offers hope for the future.


2 - Sexton remains the man

A few goal-kicking wobbles aside, the Ireland out-half was outstanding in every facet of the game; kicking off both feet, passing brilliantly and probing for gaps in a mercurial performance.

His season with Leinster has had rough patches as he overcame his World Cup disappointment, but he now looks back to his very best.

Defensively, he made a big contribution and put himself in the firing line as ever – even going for a poach and a counter-ruck during the second-half, something that must have given Schmidt conniptions in the coaching box.

Worries over his durability will persist, but there is no doubt that he remains the No 1 out-half in Europe after this latest performance.

3 - Andy Farrell has work to do

It wasn’t all fun and games as Scotland showed that new defence coach Andy Farrell has a job on is hands to make the Irish rear-guard watertight again.

Stuart Hogg showed why attacking players scan the pitch for Mike Ross when they get the ball en route to scoring a scintillating try, while the second Scottish try bore all the hallmarks of the pair England managed in Twickenham.

Ireland still look vulnerable in the wide channels and the former England defence coach must find a way to shore things up in South Africa.


4 – Scotland not yet the finished article

The Scots produced some magical moments, scoring three tries, but Vern Cotter still has work to do before they can be counted as Six Nations contenders.

They have some nice players and were missing two key men in Jonny Gray and Finn Russell, but Ireland showed their limitations by grinding them down with a strong performance.

They made too many mistakes, conceded too many penalties and ended up in the familiar position of the bottom half of the table.


5 – Heaslip can still dominate

CJ Stander was excellent for Ireland, but Jamie Heaslip rolled back the years with a display that reminded everyone how good he can be.

He dominated collisions, tackled well and threw a couple of excellent offloads in a complete performance that seemed to demonstrate that he got a confidence boost from scoring two tries against Italy last weekend.

His work rate was phenomenal as he carried the ball 18 times for 32m and it all added up to a man of the match award.

The vice-captain can be a divisive figure, but it’s hard to dispute his class when he plays like that.

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