Rudderless attack and leaky defense - Five things we learned from Ireland's 27-22 defeat to Scotland
Ireland's Grand Slam hopes have been dashed at the first hurdle after Scotland won their first opening round game of the Six Nations since 2006. Here are five things we learned from the disappointing defeat.
1. GRAND SLAMMED
Late in the week, Jamie Heaslip was asked about the increased expectations surrounding side following the historic second half of 2017 when Ireland won on South African soil for the first time ever before evicting their All Blacks monkey.
“Don’t believe the hype!” he warned us. “You can’t win a Grand Slam on day one but you can certainly lose one.”
Ireland have no chance now; the championship remains alive but losing to one of the sides not fancied as a title contender on day represents a stunning blow for Joe Schmidt’s side, who have flopped in their last two tournaments.
2. LEAKY IRELAND
Scotland were starved of possession but dominated the scoring stats in the opening half and, for all the ceaseless praise of the former England coach Andy Farrell’s supposedly renowned defensive systems, Ireland continue to leak like a sieve.
They continue to let in at least three tries a test match against major nations and they had done so by the half-hour mark in Murrayfield. Ireland don’t know how to stop conceding them.
Despite Scotland repeatedly seeking the edges, and finding joy there, ireland resolutely stuck to their prescriptive guns and defended too narrowly. They need to adapt during games; they eventually did but it was too late.
3. LEADERSHIP AND DIRECTION
It shouldn’t necessarily fall upon Paddy Jackson’s shoulders alone but the “go-to” man and “leader” referenced by so many this week in the build-up to the game seemed to be a case of his team-mates protesting a little too much.
Was the general, rudderless attack shape all his fault? Hard to say. But he was vocally quiet which, in the absence of key leaders in the midfield doesn’t help; Conor Murray struggles to assume more responsibility too. In general, though, the team were too reserved, muted by their own bafflement.
Only when the Scots tired and Ireland hit their straps, winning better gain-lines, was Jackson allowed to display his all-round talents; like so many others after such a sluggish start, he grew into the game and this team.
4. SYSTEMS MIS-HAPS
Apart from getting the weather forecast wrong - and we all did - Ireland’s desire for a surfeit of scrums didn’t really materialise and it never materialised as the attacking weapon and points scoring machine they had hoped.
Worse, the lineout drive failed to prosper; they coughed up a gilt-edged chance early in the game which may have thieved Scotch thunder; instead they blew it, as well as messing up another couple of set-pieces during the game.
In defence, there wasn’t much better; as they somehow allowed Alex Dunbar, not exactly an inconspicuous figure, to stroll into the middle of a lineout while the Gray brothers occupied the front; it was a try from the schoolyard.
5. GROUND HOGG DAY
If there were any doubts about who should be the roaming, marauding full-back for the Lions in New Zealand this summer, then surely the answer was provided by the impish Glasgow man, whose distant kinship with George Best was made outstandingly clear yet again.
His two-try salvo in the first-half may have owed much to a beleaguered Irish defence but it was a simply a joy for those who love their sport to see an individual talent deploy such wonderful, breath-taking guile and dexterity in a game increasingly dominated by systems and monstrous collisions.
His show and dart dummy against Kearney, before accelerating past Earls, was simply magical and left two former fellow Lions floundering. And that was after kicking off with a sublime gather of a bouncing ball to run in his opener.