Six Nations 2014: Joe Schmidt’s Ireland pass easy Scottish test
Six Nations 2014: Oisin Gregorian reflects on Ireland's 26-8 victory over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium
Solid, but unspectacular. In many ways, this was the classic Irish performance: gritty, void of significant error, and managing to do enough to quash the opposition.
Now off the mark in an effective and professional manner, attention quickly turns to Wales six days from now – which has the potential to make or break the Irish challenge on only the second weekend of the championship.
In truth, Scotland provided little, and their opponents gladly feasted off it. Despite struggling to come into the game for the majority of the opening half, their opponents rarely threatened despite having by far the superior possession and territory. Once the opening try awoke the slumbering Aviva Stadium, Scotland’s challenge unfortunately failed to recover for the neutral.
All the talk pre-game was whether or not the New Zealand effort could be replicated in order to provide the perfect platform for any shot at a potential championship. Just like Wales on Saturday against Italy, opening weekend nerves were evident in the first half as the home side struggled to get into the game for the vast majority.
A year ago in Cardiff, Ireland played arguably their one and only good forty minutes of the tournament, steam-rolling over a scattered Wales to ensure victory before halftime. A year later in front of an expectant crowd – with many in attendance still nursing the pain of that New Zealand defeat not so long ago – the stop-start beginning made sure the crowd was quickly quietened.
Instead it was the visitors, perhaps with little to lose given the pre-tournament expectation, who began the brightest – dominating possession and territory for the majority of the half.
This time it was Ireland’s turn to play the role of the nervous one in the opening exchanges of the tournament; a nervousness evidently not helped by losing Paul O’Connell to a chest infection just hours before kick off.
Fortunately for the home side, Scotland’s attack offered little or no treat on any visit to their opponent’s twenty-two despite the odd line break. With this, the home side were able to comfortable deal with any potential threat being thrown at them. The only problem was that they themselves were struggling to get out of their own half.
Unaided by a stop-starting Craig Joubert, the half quickly began to peter out with an assortment of resetting scrums and injury stoppages leading to neither side being able to assert themselves properly as both Greig Laidlaw and Jonathan Sexton exchanged penalties which resulted in the home side taking a 6-3 lead. So much was the half petering out that many of the fans began to head for the snack queue as early as the 35th minute. It was then that the game finally came into life, and the match as a contest was effectively decided then.
Beginning with a brilliant line break from Sexton, desperate to re-write some of the disappointments that have dogged his first season in France, Ireland at long last found themselves in an attacking position. Feeding a barn-storming Jamie Heaslip on the wing, the crowd at long last thought they were celebrating the game’s first try, only for Heaslip’s effort to be ruled out by the TMO following some last ditch tracking back by replacement Max Evans, who had recently come on for the stricken Sean Maitland.
From that attacking position, Ireland refused to let up, and would soon be leaving the twenty-two with five points courtesy of some quick and efficient play at the breakdown in order to send Andrew Trimble over on his comeback. Scoring with his first touch of the game with the clock going dead, the Ulsterman’s try epitomised the Irish struggle in the opening half. Ireland suddenly found themselves 11-3 up despite not offering much of an attacking threat, but like anyone they gladly took it.
Scotland needed to score first after the break in order to provide any sort of challenge- and they managed it with Laidlaw’s second successful penalty on 43 minutes.
Unfortunately for them from an attacking point of view, this was to be the end of any further scoring opportunities as the Irish effectively and professionally closed the game out the game three minutes later when man-of-the-match Heaslip touched down following a simple lineout and maul move that will embarrass both team and coach on second viewing.
Sexton added the conversion and, as the Irish attack was finally finding some fluency, he added another three points in the 57th minute to extend the advantage to 15 points. Within 20 second half minutes, the game was brutally sown up, and memories of a drab effort in the first half were quickly forgotten about.
With the win all but sealed, Schmidt was given the pleasure of emptying his bench as the match came to close. Amongst this, half-centurion Rob Kearney broke through some more weak Scottish defence, who at this point were beginning to pack it in, to notch the home team’s third try 10 minutes from time. The Aviva crowd was finally able to party, while Schmidt and co were given the comfort of being able to prematurely begin the focus on more serious challenges down the line.
In the video below, Matt Dawson returns to join Will Carling & Scott Quinnell as they catch-up on the nail-biting final rounds of the Heineken Cup, catch up with another one of Matt’s Celebrity Friends and answer your Twitter questions.