Sport Match Reports

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Schmidt admits 'concern' over fragile defence

Ireland 28 Scotland 22

Ireland’s Simon Zebo is tackled by Scotland’s Richie Vernon at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland’s Simon Zebo is tackled by Scotland’s Richie Vernon at the Aviva Stadium
Joe Schmidt was happy to see his team tested
Ian Madigan kicks crossfield to set up Luke Fitzgerald for Ireland’s fourth try
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

If Ireland need a reminder of the step up required in the weeks to come, they need only take a look at the 21 tackles they missed against Scotland on Saturday.

Earlier on that day, Australia missed the same number against New Zealand and conceded five tries. Ireland shipped three against the Scots and, having conceded the same number in Cardiff a week previously, there is now a legitimate concern about the defence.

A better team than Scotland would have won in Dublin - Vern Cotter's visitors have a remarkable ability to create opportunities and then find new ways of butchering them.

Yet, they managed to breach the Irish rearguard on three occasions having dominated possession and territory.

Joe Schmidt was happy to have seen his squad tested. Scotland asked questions, were effective at ruck-time and caused Ireland problems. Schmidt was less enthused by the way his side dealt with them.

A combination of a strong set-piece and some Ian Madigan magic saw Ireland through and there is plenty for the coach to digest as he considers his next move,

In two weeks' time, the front-liners return to the fold and the standards should improve, but after keeping things tight throughout the Six Nations, Schmidt doesn't want the leaky rearguard becoming a habit.

It was noticeable that Les Kiss was leading the half-time team-talk and one expects that the Australian will be working hard in the weeks to come.

Asked if tackling and the defence was a concern, Schmidt conceded: "It probably was. We conceded three tries in the Six Nations, we conceded three tries last weekend and three tries this week.

"I thought last week a couple of tries were untidy and it was at the end of the game. The tries today, I thought Scotland played really well.

"They put the pressure on and we did miss tackles and once they were in behind you they didn't say 'oh, we'll let you off the hook'. They really went for us.

"It's nothing we didn't expect, but I think having been in the environment now for a couple of players who hadn't played for a while or were new to the game, they understand a little bit more about it now."

Shifting

In particular, Gordon D'Arcy and Dan Tuohy will be shifting uncomfortably as they approach the review after being guilty of a number of glaring misses, but they weren't alone.

Having used 29 players so far, the coach will have a clearer picture in his mind about his eventual squad, with just one more match before he picks his final 31.

This exercise allowed him to look at Simon Zebo in the No 15 shirt, re-introduce the men who finished the Six Nations in possession of the wing jerseys, take a look at Madigan and give Jack Conan and Nathan White debuts.

Zebo went well enough to suggest he should make the cut, but both Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald were underwhelming and were shown up by Dave Kearney's sparkling cameo.

Madigan probably did enough to ensure his place in the No 22 jersey, while Conan looked comfortable, even if his time may come in the next World Cup cycle.

White, meanwhile, did enough in his 28 minutes to suggest he may leapfrog Marty Moore, who has yet to play after undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of last season.

The 33-year-old converted Kiwi barely got a scrum, but his work in open play was sharp and he certainly put himself in the frame.

Along with the history making D'Arcy and Tuohy, Isaac Boss did little to enhance his chances: his sluggish performance offered a chink of light to Kieran Marmion, who Schmidt praised in the aftermath.

Sean O'Brien was outstanding on the deck, but never got going above ground. However, he and Jared Payne were the class acts in Ireland's display, while Paul O'Connell's performance off the bench was encouraging.

Ireland's set-piece continued to be a strong point, with Cotter complimentary about the home scrum in particular, while their ability to score four tries without really giving much away is a plus.

It was a strange occasion, played in front of swathes of empty seats as the IRFU's low-key approach failed to attract sufficient interest to fill the 52,000-capacity stadium a week after their Welsh counterparts had packed the Millennium Stadium.

The first half was hard on the eyes, full of errors and scrums and, while Ireland scored first through Chris Henry, it was the Scots who got to grips with the game better and had levelled through a well-worked Blair Cowan try by half-time.

No 8 Dave Denton was causing all sorts of problems with ball in hand and, with Ireland slipping off tackles badly, the visitors' impressive captain Henry Pyrgos put his side in front after half-time with a pick-and-go try.

As ever in difficult situations, Ireland went to their maul, which allowed Sean Cronin peel off and crash over, before a combination of Madigan's creative play and Kearney's injection of speed set up Zebo's try after yet more clever work from the fly-half.

And yet Scotland came back again, with Peter Horne making the most of a poor Fitzgerald kick and some indecisive defending from D'Arcy and Conan to score.

Ruaridh Jackson's conversion nudged Cotter's side in front and it was hard to argue they didn't deserve it, but a moment of pure class from Madigan settled the affair as he delivered a peach of a cross-kick for Fitzgerald, who didn't need to break stride as he galloped over.

Scotland attempted to wrest the momentum back their way, but their efforts came to nothing.

At the end of what Schmidt hailed as a proper test for his charges, Ireland remained in their lofty position of No 2 in the world rankings, having won their 16th game in the coach's 20 to date.

After complaining of learning little against Wales, this was a far more instructive exercise as the World Cup edged ever nearer.

There is plenty of time to iron out the defensive kinks, and the number of missed tackles will be used as a stick to beat the players. In the end, it may be seen as no bad thing.

In two weeks' time, Wales come to Dublin locked and loaded and with Ireland likely to follow suit, the real business begins.

While picking the squad remains the primary focus, there will be a renewed emphasis on defence in the coming weeks. It's still early season, but with two games to go before the main event, Schmidt won't take any chances that a few blips become a bad habit.

Ireland - S Zebo (P Jackson 78); T Bowe, J Payne, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, I Boss (E Reddan 66); D Kilcoyne (M Bent 61), S Cronin (R Strauss 61), M Ross (N White 52), D Toner, D Tuohy (P O'Connell 55), J Conan (J Murphy 64), C Henry, S O'Brien.

Scotland - R Jackson; S Lamont, R Vernon, P Horne, T Visser; G Tonks, H Pyrgos (capt, S Hidalgo-Clyne 66); R Grant (G Reid 45), F Brown (R Ford 52), J Welsh (M Cusack 47 temp), J Hamilton (R Harley 55), G Gilchrist, B Cowan (J Barclay 58), H Blake, D Denton.

Ref - P Gauzere (France)

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