Six Nations 2013: Talking points as Scotland heap misery on Ireland
Six Nations 2013: James Thompson looks at the talking points as Scotland secured a 12-8 victory over Ireland
Just how did Scotland win?
It will be the question that most spectators, both Irish and neutral, will be considering in the aftermath of this game. Just what exactly did we witness? Ireland utterly dominated Scotland, both territorially and in possession, but somehow managed to lose the game. Despite spending the majority of the first half defending their own try line and being down to 14 men for ten minutes, Scotland were only losing by three points at half-time. It had much to do with Ireland spurning kickable penalties in a bid to score a try but their line out fell apart in the Scottish 22. Credit must go to the home side for their superb defensive display, led by Kelly Brown and Jim Hamilton, as they stole Irish ball and repelled waves of attacks. In the second half, every time Scotland ventured into the Irish half they managed to secure a penalty and Greg Laidlaw did the damage with the boot. Ireland did score with Craig Gilroy going over in the corner but they couldn’t fashion any other clear-cut chances and head coach Declan Kidney will have to face some tough questions this week. He gave debuts to Ulster duo Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall, and while the latter impressed in the loose, Jackson’s kicking was wayward at best and replacement, the veteran Ronan O’Gara, was not much better. Ireland appear to be at a crossroads with their “golden generation” coming to the end of their careers. They must blood new talent and quickly in order to remain competitive.
The Irish selection policy
Kidney’s selection policy has come under intense scrutiny in the last year. With players such as Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and O’Gara coming in the twilight of their careers, Irish supporters had been calling for the injection of new blood into the side. A comprehensive victory by Irish A over Fiji in the autumn offered glimpses of talent, with the likes of Jackson and Marshall impressing, and they were finally given an opportunity with Jonathan Sexton and Gordon D’Arcy out through injury. A debut at Murrayfield isn’t for the faint hearted, and while the occasion seemed to affect Jackson, who missed touch frequently, a penalty and a conversion, Marshall looked a real threat. He constantly broke the Scottish line with some incisive running but was never given a great deal of support and the momentum was lost. As the game wore on, Ireland turned to O’Gara for his experience and game management. However, the veteran had a shocker with some bizarre kicking and poor passes. One aimless cross field kick took everyone by surprise and Scotland managed to overturn the ball and win a penalty which secured their victory. Kidney faces some tough calls with this side. With Sexton sidelined, O’Gara looks a spent force, and at 36, his selection is a backward step. It may be a baptism of fire and they may lose a few initially but they should keep faith with Jackson as they have to inject some youth into their ageing side.
Scotland forwards lead the way
Much of the media coverage on the Scotland side had focussed on the back three of Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Sean Maitland. While all three are capable of turning a game on its head, they were overshadowed by their forwards who delivered a defensive master class. Scotland never carried any genuine attacking threat, which is a shame considering the threat they pose out wide but their forwards gave them enough opportunities to kick their way to victory. Led by captain Brown and lock Hamilton, Scotland disrupted the Irish line out, dominated the Irish scrum with prop’s Ryan Grant and Geoff Cross particularly destructive and generally made a nuisance for themselves. Any time Ireland looked to break, the Scottish forwards slowed the ball down and allowed their defence to regroup. Credit must go to coach Dean Ryan who has organised this side to give away very little and their concentration and fitness allowed them to keep up their mammoth effort for the entire game. Such performances will not go unnoticed by Lions coach Warren Gatland as the Scottish forwards finally gave him some food for thought in the coming weeks.
Ireland miss their key men
While Ireland will rue their wasted chances, they will point to a lengthy injury list as a key factor behind their form. With the likes of O’Connell, Tommy Bowe, Cian Healy, Simon Zebo, Sexton and D’Arcy all missing through injury or suspension, Ireland were obviously weakened. Their collective experience was noticeably missed. In the scrum, Healy’s hulking presence and solid scrummaging were not adequately replaced and O’Connell’s mastery of the lineout was not replicated by Donncha O’Callaghan or Donncha Ryan. In the back line, Sexton’s creativity and consistency was missed as Jackson failed to get into the game and release a still potent back line. Any team with Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney can create something out of nothing, but they were starved of quick ball and space as Ireland, for all their possession, never looked likely of adding to Gilroy’s second-half score. It’s an odd time for Irish rugby as domestically their teams are so strong but internationally something appears to be missing. They seem to have left it too long to blood new talent into the side and their lack of experience behind those missing is cruelly exposed at the highest level. They must give their youth a chance and rebuild this side if they want to have a successful 2015 World Cup.