Saturday 17 February 2018

How Scotland made most of Ireland's wastefulness to end Joe Schmidt's hope of Six Nations Grand Slam

Scotland's Ryan Wilson and Gordon Reid celebrate after the RBS 6 Nations match at BT Murrayfield
Scotland's Ryan Wilson and Gordon Reid celebrate after the RBS 6 Nations match at BT Murrayfield

Tom Cary

Here are four reasons why Scotland emerged victorious at Murrayfield this afternoon.

Ireland waste early scrum dominance

Ireland’s scrum was expected to have the edge. The emergence of Tadhg Furlong over the last 12 months or so has been impressive and the Leinster tighthead gave Allan Dell a torrid time in the first half hour.

Dell was twice penalised for popping up and Zander Ferguson once as Ireland enjoyed early stats of 62 per cent possession and 65 per cent territory. But they still found themselves down three tries to one at half-time due to their inability to capitalise on that platform.

Joe Schmidt’s team were late arriving at the stadium and late to everything in the first half. They had picked a heavy back row full of big ball carriers but CJ Stander, Jamie Heaslip and, to a lesser degree, Sean O’Brien, made few inroads around the fringes; they were ponderous in attack and their back division went AWOL in defence.

Scotland far greater cutting edge in the back division

Scotland took full advantage of Ireland’s ragged defence. Vern Cotter’s men looked like they might score every time they got the ball, throwing it out wide early and fast.

Stuart Hogg was irrepressible, doing his Lions hopes no harm by grabbing a couple of well-taken tries, Alex Dunbar popped up in a cheeky lineout move, while only an excellent cover tackle from Rob Kearney prevented Hogg from releasing Keith Earls for a fourth try before the break.

Conor Murray quiet game

Arguably the best No 9 in the world on current form, Murray had a quiet game by his standards. Much of the talk in the build-up had revolved around Glasgow’s ‘targeting’ of the Munster scrum half in their two Champions Cup games, with accusations that they had intentionally targeted his standing leg.

Whether he was genuinely rattled or not, Murray put up hardly any of his trademark up-and-unders and never got Ireland’s much-vaunted kick-chase going.

Scotland dig in to stem the fightback and regain control

Ireland scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to retake the lead at 22-21 and it looked as if they would go on to complete a famous comeback.

Only a combination of desperate defending – the Scots ended up making 213 tackles, nearly 100 more than the Ireland, with Jonny Gray responsible for 28 of them, a Scottish record – and Irish profligacy kept them in the game. Heaslip wasted a clear break from Conor Murray. And Greig Laidlaw kept a cool head at the end to keep his men deep in Ireland’s 22m before knocking over a last-minute penalty.

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