Joe Schmidt will not be best-pleased at the inaccuracy of Ireland’s edgy win over Scotland at a subdued Aviva Stadium.
The mistakes were there from the start. There was a disconnect between half-backs Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan. Tommy Bowe shipped a knock in an aerial challenge.
When debut-maker Hugh Blake lost his feet at a ruck, Madigan rifled a penalty into the 22. Sean Cronin’s throw was off target.
The Scots chose to run their way out of trouble, at least until scrum-half Henry Pyrgos cleared his lines.
There was quick ball off the top from Devin Toner. It was spoiled by a misunderstanding between Simon Zebo and Luke Fitzgerald. Jared Payne jarred up Richie Vernon in the tackle.
The Irish scrum was penalised for Dave Kilcoyne walking around the outside. Scotland could not make their lineout stick and Devin Toner spilled the ball in yet another sign of a disjointed first twelve minutes.
The game plan was straight-forward, literally, as Fitzgerald, Cronin, Zebo, Kilcoyne and Sean O’Brien drove into the heart of the Scots before Chris Henry finished the job for Madigan to convert from the left in the 16th minute.
The next time Scotland got hands to the ball captain O’Brien was there to wrestle a penalty out of Sean Lamont.
Madigan dispatched to touch again. Gordon D’Arcy wheeled out of a tackle. But, Toner coughed up a present of a penalty for side entry to a ruck.
The boot of Madigan took Ireland into prime position once again. They just couldn’t turn it into points.
The Irish scrum went into overdrive to cause a knock-on from Dave Denton. The fine passing of Madigan, a typical retrieval of a high ball by Bowe and simple, accurate movement ended with Bowe’s grubber coming to nothing.
Scotland’s first real keep-ball was fired by Denton’s power, especially when rumbling over Mike Ross, and the patience to wait for the opening, flanker Blair Cowan’s finishing in the right corner.
Centre Peter Horne’s conversion squared the game in the 32nd minute.
Scotland were beginning to look fluid. Horne pushed a penalty right of the posts. They were coming into it with zeal until O’Brien picked up another poach in the last significant act of the first-half.
It was more of the same. The mishandling of Henry was followed by O’Brien’s missed tackle on Lamont, Zebo sliding in to recover a dangerous situation.
Forwards Ross and Conan were guilty of not getting off the line quickly enough as Pyrgos dived between them to make it 12-7 in the 44th minute.
Zebo’s calm collect of a Garryowen and D’Arcy’s precision pass triggered a nice attack which was killed by O’Brien’s careless use of the ball.
Wing Tim Visser’s strength was too much for D’Arcy, prompting a serious attack which required Conan’s vigilance to see off a Pyrgos chip.
Conan broke the line, Henry was the link man and Kilcoyne steamed ahead to set up position.
Ireland reached for the maul and Cronin motored over, Madigan’s conversion taking them into a 14-12 lead in the 56th minute.
The introduction of Paul O’Connell brought more urgency with Kilcoyne formidable in the loose.
But, Lamont spun away from Boss, Fitzgerald got isolated and Horne recovered the lead on the hour.
Ireland needed impact badly. Dave Kearney gave it to them with a magical first touch and Zebo took Madigan’s inside ball home, the out-half’s extras making it 21-15 in the 62nd minute.
The evasion of Horne was a warning and the centre made the Irish pay the price by scything through for a soft try which full-back Ruaridh Jackson converted in the 67th minute.
The reaction was impressive. There was fluency. Madigan was the architect and Fitzgerald the finisher from a beautifully cross-field ball, the conversion taking them six clear.
Madigan was off target for the first time in the 75th minute from a penalty engineered by the maul. It was still just a one-score game.
The Scots had one last chance. They couldn’t take it.
Ireland: S Zebo; T Bowe, J Payne, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, I Boss; D Kilcoyne, S Cronin, M Ross, D Toner, D Tuohy, J Conan, C Henry, S O’Brien (capt).
Replacements: N White for Ross 51 mins; P O’Connell for Tuohy 55 mins; R Strauss for Cronin, M Bent for Kilcoyne D Kearney for Bowe all 60 mins; J Murphy for Conan 64 mins; E Reddan for Boss 66 mins; P Jackson for Zebo 77 mins.
Scotland: R Jackson; S Lamont, R Vernon, P Horne, T Visser; G Tonks, H Pyrgos (capt); R Grant, F Brown, J Welsh, J Hamilton, G Gilchrist, B Cowan, H Blake, D Denton.
Replacements: G Reid for Grant 44 mins; M Cusack for Welsh 46 mins – temp; R Ford for Brown 51 mins; R Harley for Hamilton 55 mins; J Barclay for Cowan 57 mins; M Scott for Vernon 60 mins; S Hidalgo-Clyne for Pyrgos 65 mins.
IRELAND (S Zebo, C Henry, S Cronin, L Fitzgerald try each; I Madigan 4 cons);
SCOTLAND (P Horne try, pen, con; B Cowan, H Pyrgos try each; R Jackson con).
There are 160 minutes of playing time left to impress Joe Schmidt and, with more changes expected in two weeks' time, no guarantee of a second chance, so for the Ireland players this afternoon it is all about seizing chances.
One of the most painful injuries I suffered was in the Sportsground in Galway four years ago when I dislocated my elbow. One minute I'm running around, doing what I'm meant to do, and the next minute I'm on the ground in total agony.