What started with a bang at Murrayfield yesterday, with Scotland coming out of the blocks from the first whistle, turned into a long sequence of grunts, where Ireland always had enough to get back into the winner’s enclosure.
Having flopped at home to England last weekend, Joe Schmidt’s side were always likely to return to their lengthy possession game, punctuated with box-kicks, and in the end it got his team over the line.
“I think we just muscled our way through it to be honest,” said Schmidt after the 22-13 win. “In the first half we were in our 22 for 34 per cent of the time and in our half for about 72 per cent of the time, so that was a massive defensive effort. And even the intercept (try) was on our advantage so we went to sleep a little bit there and we’ve got to be better than that.”
He added: “We need to kick on from here. We’re relying on other people but we can’t rely on anyone else for the performances we put in from here until the end of the Six Nations.”
The likelihood is that he will be asking a clatter of different men to carry the load in Rome in a fortnight. So while Johnny Sexton is expected to be fit, he’s unlikely to be asked to travel. The outhalf failed a HIA early in this game having got what Schmidt described as “a little bit of treatment out there”.
He stopped short of alleging there was foul play, just as Scotland coach Gregor Townsend didn’t make much of the loss of his fullback Stuart Hogg even earlier than Sexton.
“It was disappointing,” Townsend said. “He chipped ahead and he was sandwiched between two players and there was a collision which caused him to land on his shoulder.”
Hogg’s departure led to the introduction of Blair Kinghorn, who had scored a hat-trick last weekend against Italy, but with Scotland’s game gradually falling apart in the second half, he never got the sort of opportunity he needed to swing the game the home side’s way. Despite superior possession and territory stats in the first half, they were trailing at the break and throughout the second half.
“Our set-piece was strong, we were unlucky with our maul but the scrum was good and we got some initial reward before it turned into a spinathon,” Schmidt said.
The game was a personal triumph for Joey Carbery, who replaced Sexton. He recovered from having thrown an intercept pass that led to a try for Scotland centre Sam Johnson. It was Carbery then, on 60 minutes, who made a break to put Keith Earls over with a marvellous pass to effectively kill the game.
“It was a very important thing to get the win,” captain Rory Best said. “If you lose two games in this competition, you are dead and buried. We wanted to be better and be more like ourselves. Physically and emotionally, we were there, but we know we need to be playing more rugby. When Keith Earls scored, we had the chance for a fourth try but couldn’t get any sustained pressure down there.”
A bonus point would have gone some way towards Ireland clawing back lost ground, but they didn’t play with enough ambition to achieve that.
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