Friday 22 February 2019

Ian McGeechan: 'Scots miss opportunity to punish ordinary Irish'

Blair Kinghorn looks dejected after the match. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Blair Kinghorn looks dejected after the match. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ian McGeechan

Scotland will be kicking themselves this morning. Ireland were there for the taking and they let them off the hook due to their own errors.

Scotland had easily as many opportunities as their visitors yesterday. In fact, they probably got across the gain line more often and created more overlaps. But 14 handling errors in the second half?

That is effectively 14 turnovers. You just cannot afford to do that in international rugby. Certainly not against Ireland, albeit an out-of-sorts Ireland.

I am sure there will be people saying this morning that this was classic Scotland: flatter to deceive, run out of gas in the last 20 minutes etc, etc. And Scotland must not kid themselves.

They have no-one to blame but themselves. But I think it is important that we recognise the positives, too. Scotland have a clear and identifiable game-plan now. That was not always something you could say, certainly not during the Scott Johnson era.

For the second game in a row they began well, denying Ireland possession in the first 10 minutes with the speed of their play, and their physicality at the breakdown.

In a way, they opened up Ireland even more than England did, securing good, quick ball and varying their attacks. Finn Russell was magnificent in those early exchanges. He looks to have benefited from his move to France. So much time on the ball. So creative.

Scotland's defence was magnificent, too; their first-up tackling especially, slowing Ireland's ball down. Ireland's big carriers, Tadhg Furlong and Seán O'Brien, did not get across the gain line at all, which was a major reason Ireland struggled to build their game.

It took a mistake from Scotland to get Ireland into the game; Tommy Seymour's pass to Sean Maitland going astray and Conor Murray pouncing.

But even then, I thought Scotland were unfortunate. Stuart Hogg's injury in the build-up to that try was significant not only because it robbed Scotland of one of their best players, but because he was not where he would have been.

Scotland compounded the error almost immediately, though, by allowing Ireland a second try their performance did not merit, albeit it was a nice, classic Ireland strike move.

They could also feel aggrieved about some of the refereeing. Ireland are clever at killing the ball and leaving players on the wrong side.

Laidlaw spoke about it afterwards and, as a scrumhalf, you do get a feel for these things.

Scotland stuck to their game-plan, though, and got their rewards when Russell broke the line and managed to pop off the floor to Sam Johnson.

The second half was another matter. Scotland's unforced errors killed them. Ireland had 67 per cent possession and 72 per cent territory, and the sad thing from a Scotland perspective was they did not even need to work hard for it.

Scotland's game-plan is fairly high-risk, of course. But they kept making errors so early in their moves. In the first half, Scotland won the set-piece quickly, went short to the first breakdown, recycled quickly, and then looked to attack wide.

In the second, they repeatedly made errors at the first breakdown, meaning they could not get their strike runners on the ball at all.

Russell, so influential in the first half, faded through no fault of his own. He was not getting any ball to work with. What you have to remember with those errors is it is not just the error itself but the knock-on effect; halting their momentum, allowing Ireland territory.

The last two minutes summed up Scotland's second half, losing control of the game trying to force passes when more patience was required. It is finding a balance; when do you raise the tempo with the extra pass? When do you keep it safe?

Ireland were no more than ordinary. And Joe Schmidt needs to do something about the slow ball because Sexton is repeatedly getting clattered.

But he will be pleased with the win, and with certain individual performances. Joey Carbery made a difference when he came on.

He was one of their positives, showing great bravery in defence and giving Ireland a better tempo.

Rob Kearney also made a difference at full-back, bringing more solidity to their game and choosing his running lines well.

But then the result was so much more important than the performance for Ireland.

It is easy to underestimate just how mentally damaging that defeat by England was.

Scotland should not have lost, though. That is the bottom line. They have to go to Paris and get a result now. But they must learn from this.

The blueprint is in there, which is the big positive. But they have to learn to keep it up for the full 80 minutes.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport