Ireland took a step closer to winning the Six Nations championship with a 22-15 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield .
Ultimately a second half Jamie Heaslip try was the difference between the sides, but don’t be fooled by the close scoreline, this was hardly a classic.
Northern hemisphere critics have lambasted the Super 14 as being a helter-skelter club for show ponies. But after enduring the rubbish these teams served up, I’d much rather watch 1000 hours of the southern hemisphere stuff than this nonsense which masquerades as quality rugby.
Both sides saw fit to punt the dimples off the pill, largely ineffectively so, and displayed shocking fundamental skills. The closest anyone came to scoring a try in the first half was in the 40th minute, when Toms Evans was scragged five metres short of the tryline – and that was from broken field not structured play. The most impressive thing to emerge from that half was a stat that flashed up telling viewers that Scotland’s Chris Paterson hasn’t missed a goal-kick since a Six Nations fixture against France in 2006.
Scotland were probably the more dominant in the first half, but dominance needs to be viewed in context. They carried the ball through phase after phase, but lacked the physicality in contact to make telling inroads into a well organised defence. Their ball protection at the breakdown was schoolboy stuff and this robbed them of the opportunity to get the continuity which would have tested the Irish defence.
Ireland sought to profit through a similar approach, but coughed up the ball at crucial times in a passage of play. When they went expansive, the line of attack was often too lateral to trouble the Scottish defence, who simply drifted and forced the runners towards the sideline.
The 12-9 scoreline at the break came thanks to a kicking duel between Paterson and Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara.
A trip down the tunnel did little to improve the quality of play. Basic errors and tactical naivety continued to mar the match, but Heaslip broke open the contest with a try after a period of sustained pressure. O’Gara converted and added a drop-goal shortly thereafter to take his side into a seven point lead at 19-12.
Paterson slotted his fifth penalty to narrow the deficit, but Scotland’s quest for what would have been a decisive try was blunted by their inability to break out of a rigid structure and to protect the ball on the deck.
Ireland turned over numerous rucks in that period and restored their seven point lead with 10 minutes remaining. Scotland had neither the tactical intelligence or gamebreakers to breach the Ireland line and had to settle for another performance which will inevitably be described as brave in the UK media. In the southern hemisphere we’d call it what it was – decidedly poor.