A lack of a killer instinct and poor individual errors proved costly as a wasteful Ireland lost 12-8 in Murrayfield.
Ireland came into this game on the back of a disappointing 6-12 loss at home to England, while their opponents Scotland were buoyed by a convincing 34-10 win over Italy. The media focus in the build-up to the game was centred on Declan Kidney’s decision to start uncapped Paddy Jackson in place of Ronan O’ Gara, with young Luke Marshall’s début slipping under the radar.
In all, Kidney made five changes from the team that lost to England, as Ireland’s injury problems continued to mount. It was clear that a big Ireland performance would be needed to keep the media scrutiny at bay. The atmosphere in Murrayfield was reminiscent of a World Cup final rather than a Six Nations tie between two teams whose Grand Slam hopes had long evaporated.
One minute into the game and the pressure-cooker that is Murrayfield was clearly playing on Paddy Jackson’s mind, as he dropped a bread-and-butter pass, leading to a Scotland scrum. Ominous signs for the young Ulster man.
The first five minutes of the encounter was riddled with mistakes from both teams, as nerves looked to be a factor. However, all that changed on six minutes when Luke Marshall made a superb break-away which nearly led to an Irish try. Phase after phase, Ireland edged close to the Scottish line and perhaps it was a sign of a lack of confidence in young Paddy Jackson when Ireland decided to kick to touch from five metres out. It was a bad decision and a huge opportunity was lost when Scotland won the resulting line-out.
Ireland regained possession and another Luke Marshall break ensued as he ghosted through the Scottish defence with ease but was unable to successfully offload to an oncoming Craig Gilroy. Promising signs from the ‘other’ young Ulster man.
Scotland’s Ryan Grant picked up a yellow card on fifteen minutes for interfering with a quick tap-and-go from Conor Murray, reducing the Scots to fourteen men. This gave Jackson the chance for his first points in an Ireland shirt, but he fluffed his lines and wasted a great opportunity to put Ireland ahead.
Keith Earls made a superb fast-break ten minutes later but opted to go all the way himself when perhaps an offload to Brian O’ Driscoll would have been the best option. The Scots recovered well and forced Earls into touch. It was another valuable opportunity wasted, as Ireland failed to convert their dominance into points.
Ireland were awarded another kickable opportunity on thirty-two mins in an even easier position, but frustratingly decided to kick to touch once more. They worked it from left to right and won another penalty that simply had to be kicked. Jackson stood up and opened his Ireland account with ease. 0-3. A huge weight lifted off a promising young player’s shoulders.
With time winding down in the first half Ireland gave away a foolish penalty from 51 metres. Stuart Hogg was handed the tee, but his attempt just fell short, as Ireland went in at the half just three points up despite total dominance over their Scottish counterparts.
Ireland started the second-half in clinical fashion with Craig Gilroy scoring a try after just three minutes. A superb Séan O’ Brien fast-break exposed the Scots and Ireland continued to exert the pressure with Gilroy getting over the line. Brilliant rugby. Jackson was off-target with the conversion, as his attempt struck the wrong side of the post. No début-day rub-of-the-green for the Ulster man.
There are only a small number of certainties in Six Nations rugby, and Ireland allowing a team back into a game seems to be one of them, as they gave away a penalty in front of the post that Laidlaw duly converted. 8-3.
The cutting edge that Ireland lacked in the first half seemed to reappear when Paddy Jackson missed another good opportunity. Ireland could not afford to keep wasting these chances and one wondered if the introduction of O’ Gara was becoming an imminent inevitability.
Scotland began to exert pressure on the Irish scrum, forcing Declan Kidney to introduce Dave Kilcoyne for Tom Court. However, the Irish scrum issues reared their ugly head once more as Scotland won a penalty in front of the posts. Laidlaw made no mistake. 8-6.
Luke Fitzgerald made his return and replaced Craig Gilroy but the momentum was clearly favouring the Scots as they began to penetrate the Irish defence. Another Irish defensive lapse led to a Scotland penalty and Laidlaw put them in front for the first time, 9-8. Ireland were quickly becoming the architects of their own downfall.
The inevitable occurred straight after with Ronan O’ Gara replacing Jackson but Scotland were growing in confidence with every crunching tackle.
A moment of sheer madness occurred on 72 mins when O’ Gara attempted an unexplainable ‘hail-mary’ kick across the pitch. Ireland struggled to recover and Scotland ran at the defence, resulting in an inevitable penalty and three points for Laidlaw. Ireland were in disarray, Scotland were in dreamland.
Ireland huffed and puffed and were awarded a penalty on 76 minutes. It was a simple decision for Jamie Heaslip, with the captain ordering O’ Gara to kick to the corner. They won the line-out and attacked the Scottish try line. Scotland, fueled on by an electric Murrayfield crowd, held on, barely, and won a scrum following a disappointing accidental offside. The scrum collapsed twice, with the latter favouring Ireland. One last chance perhaps, but a costly knock-on from Luke Marshall gave Scotland a historic win.
Ireland will be left scratching their heads after losing a game in which they had close to 80% possession. The Declan Kidney era seems to be nearing a close as things go from bad to worse for Irish rugby.