The middle match of the opening weekend, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, served up some really good entertainment – so here is an analysis of the match in whole for you.
Firstly, to Ireland, who started off with some sharp play and a really good work ethic. Their first try in particular was really well taken, with two Irish players moving across together to put Scotland off, and that allowed Johnny Sexton to go through the gap created by that move. It was a really clever move that they managed to put together within the first period of the first half.
That wasn’t the only thing that was pleasing about Ireland. Their defence was also really well drilled and organised. Scotland constantly tried to find a way through it, but couldn’t partly because of their own errors, but also because Ireland were tightly packed in the areas where the ball was, and Andy Farrell should take an enormous amount of credit for that. He has clearly gone on the basis that good attack is based on good defence. They were forcing Scotland into errors, including from the Scots’ own lineout on one occasion.
Their defence was well-balanced throughout the match, in all honesty, and wherever Scotland tried to find gaps in it, they simply couldn’t because of the organisation that had been rooted into it. It was really impressive to see. In attack, they never seemed to tire, and it didn’t matter how many phases the ball went through in the middle of the pitch – the Irish players always seemed to have the energy to create something out of it.
This may not have been a sparkling performance from the home side, but it was definitely a professional one, and a good one to start the Andy Farrell-Johnny Sexton era. They have got something they can now build on as the tournament progresses.
As far as Scotland were concerned, they did start well, and were getting in the Irish faces and pushing them back all the time, and not letting them have any space. This was clearly the plan for the first half, and it did work to an extent. It was designed to stop Ireland’s runners from going through them, and giving Scotland’s runners less of the pitch to run should Scotland make an interception at all. It was a good setup from them. However, as much as Scotland were able to get up to Ireland, and not allow them any space, they weren’t able to make many clean tackles, which meant that the plan was a bit useless in this instance. Ireland had a lot of possession in the first half, and this was one of the reasons for that.
Another new captain, Exeter Chiefs full-back Stuart Hogg, who had taken over following the retirement of several senior players after the World Cup (namely previous captain John Barclay, scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and wing Tommy Seymour) was right in the middle of things, as he usually can be found in, but for a captain it was even more significant, as he was leading from the front constantly. Considering he was meant to be the player furthest back and the last line of defence, this was very impressive, but then this is what we have grown used to with Hogg – he is the very definition of an attacking full-back.
Their attack wasn’t overly quick, and whilst they kept pushing for a try, it wasn’t to be, but there was a reason for this. Whilst they were unlucky with certain moments, they did make errors with the final ball at times – not as much as Italy did against Wales, but enough to ensure that they couldn’t get over the line. They did try everything, from quick passing to diagonal scissor passes, but they were unable to force a gap, and dropping the ball on one occasion summed up the fact that, at times in the first half, all they lacked was a little bit of composure at key moments.
In the second half, it was more of the same sadly. They continued to give away penalties and hand Ireland possession, but that isn’t to say that they were really poor. Quite the opposite, in fact, as despite the penalty count, they pushed all the way to the finish, and that is something they should be commended for. Unfortunately for them, captain Stuart Hogg dropped the ball on 50 minutes when he had to score, as it was an open try line where he was, and he was relatively unchallenged for the try-scoring opportunity. It did sum up Scotland’s day though – as I said before, lacking composure at the final moment. Chances for them were at a premium, and, whilst they did get a losing bonus point which was a brilliant result for them, they will feel it could and should have been closer on the scoreboard.
It seemed as if Ireland were happy to wait for Scotland to give them the penalties, and the lack of discipline at times did let the away side down, but this was just not their day all round.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Irish prop Cian Healy was phenomenal throughout, constantly coming back onto the pitch to fill gaps left by Dave Kilcoyne’s injury and Tadhg Furlong also limping off the field at the end, but there was one player who was outstanding throughout, and that was CJ Stander. The flanker was the one making all the right tackles at key moments (there was some dubiousness over his final turnover), and was a force to be reckoned with on the field.
Scotland will lick their wounds and go again when they host England at Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup match next Saturday evening. Both sides lost this weekend, making that game even more important and interesting. Ireland are at home again, with Wales making the trip across the Irish Sea to visit Dublin for Saturday’s early kick off.