Thursday 19 April 2018

Grim day for Schmidt as Scots rewrite script

Schmidt admits they were ‘sluggish’. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Schmidt admits they were ‘sluggish’. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you were planning on adding yourself to the posse of profiteers in the ticket business these days, then take the Ireland versus England Grand Slam decider off your list of killings to be made.

Not only does that agenda need rewriting, but at one stage another grim prospect came into view: Ireland's world rankings.

With the World Cup pool draw being made in May, this is not a good time to be worsening your position on the rankings list. Ireland started the weekend knowing that if they lost by more than 15 points to Scotland, and Wales beat Italy this afternoon by the same margin, then we would slip out of the top four.

At the rate Scotland were able to convert visits to the Ireland 22 into tries, this was looking a possibility.

"It looks like a very difficult championship to win," Joe Schmidt said afterwards. "We need to go to Italy now and get four or five points out of it."

He had planned on that before yesterday, a gig that Ireland arrived to 15 minutes late. Seemingly, they left the hotel on time, but got bogged down en route. Bit of a metaphor that one, for the Scots' timing was spot on across the park. "There was certainly a sluggishness of thought and movement in that first half," Schmidt said. "The solutions are there."

He didn't sound like Johnny Sexton would be one of them for Rome. In his absence, Paddy Jackson had the satisfaction of getting over for a try, but the frustration of playing into the teeth of a Scottish defence looked onerous for him.

"The ball was slow and that made it very difficult for Paddy," Schmidt said. "And because the ball was slow, they had the initiative in getting off the line and did it very well. So Paddy always felt crowded in that first half, whereas I'd say probably the reverse was true of them. They got good front-foot ball and did a really good job with it.

"We got some really good field position in that first half and didn't convert it, which was frustrating. They got probably too much room to move and we were sluggish to close that space down."

Despite that, it wasn't as if Ireland looked like they were coasting. Rather, they seemed to be working overtime from the start, and getting very little reward for it. Rugby is hard enough when you're on the receiving end, but when you have a dominant set-piece, are miles ahead on the penalty count, and both the possession and territory stats say you're all over your opponents like a rash, then you need them to look sick. The Scots were in rude health.

Schmidt will be able to pick out any number of bad decisions, which if avoided could have given us a different result.

Very little went wrong for Scotland. So rather than reflecting on this as a close call, and some mending will ensure a better performance in Rome, it was more than that.

It will melt Schmidt's brain that team leaders like Jamie Heaslip and Conor Murray were among those pushing the wrong buttons at vital times.

The bonus point in defeat was useful, but not much consolation if you had come to Murrayfield expecting to leave with a win, and maybe a winning bonus into the bargain. The script is being rewritten.

Sunday Indo Sport

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