Ireland v Scotland: courageous visitors left frustrated by own mistakes

Too many penalties and a failure to turn pressure into points costs Gregor Townsend's team a winning start to Six Nations

Ireland's Iain Henderson tackles Scotland's Jonny Gray during a tense battle at the Aviva Stadium. Image: © Craig Watson -
Ireland's Iain Henderson tackles Scotland's Jonny Gray during a tense battle at the Aviva Stadium. Image: © Craig Watson -

Ireland 19

Scotland 12

DAVID BARNES @ Aviva Stadium

IF Scotland had been offered a seven-point loss on Saturday morning, few with a vested interest in the national team’s fortunes would have turned their noses up, so from that perspective this should be regarded as a triumph of sorts given the backdrop to this match – but it was hard to escape the sense of frustration afterwards that a golden opportunity to pick up a rare win in Dublin had slipped through the collective fingers of Gregor Townsend’s team.

There was much to admire about this performance from a Scottish perspective – not least set-piece and the batting spirit exhibited by the players from the first minute to the last – but in the final analysis, the failure to turn a number possessions on the Irish line into five or seven points, and too many cheap points coughed up at the other end through disciplinary and/or concentration lapses will haunt the team during their debrief.

At least three soft penalties within easy kicking range for Jonny Sexton were conceded, and while defence was generally solid there was a bad lapse which allowed the Irish in for the game’s only try with just under 10 minutes played – meaning that the visitors were always chasing this game. Plenty to build on for next week’s Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield, and lots of lessons to learn.

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Theories on what Scotland needed to do to exorcise the demons of a torrid few months had raged wildly all week, but one thing everyone was in agreement on was that they needed to start well, and to their credit they did exactly that, dominating possession with two long passages of play during the opening five minutes and taking the lead through an Adam Hastings penalty from in front of the posts after James Ryan was called for going off his feet to compete for the ball on the deck.

The host team also lost debutant No 8 Caelan Doris during those frantic opening exchanges, after he was knocked-out whilst tackling Hastings, which must have been a huge disappointment for the player, but his team-mates won’t have been overly perturbed to see Peter O’Mahony – the man who led the Lions to a Test series draw against the All Blacks in 2017 – trotting off the bench.

The hosts showed their threat when Jordan Larmour made good ground up the right, and they took the lead on nine minutes by working a neat but fairly basic out-the-back move which opened up a yawning gap on the left for Sexton to waltz through unchallenged. It was a well worked score, but Scotland’s new defence coach Steve Tandy will have been furious that so many blue jerseys were snoozing on the wrong side of the ruck.

Hastings narrowed the gap to a point with a well-struck 40-yarder from a scrum penalty, and Scotland spent the next 10 minutes on the front foot until two loose penalties in quick succession – the second against Fraser Brown for blatantly taking out Andrew Conway as he chased a kick ahead – allowed Ireland to activate the pressure release valve.

Still Ireland were not allowed to build any rhythm and they began to lose focus. Sexton was chirping away at the referee, with the Aviva crowd and the guy working the replays on the big screen following suit – they reckoned that Larmour had been taken out of the ball by Scott Cummings, that Sexton had been caught high as he gathered a loose ball, that Nick Haining had tip-tackled Conway and so it went on.

Good on referee Mathieu Raynal for sticking to his guns, and it was Scotland who were awarded the next kickable penalty against Conor Murray for holding on, but Hastings’ long-range effort strayed to the right of the posts.

Ireland scored next instead when Ali Price was penalised for an offside and Sexton slotted the easy three points.

With three minutes left in the half, Sam Johnson anticipated Murray’s pass for an intercept on his own 22, then Hastings and Sean Maitland lent their support in a breakout which went all the way up to the opposition 22. When the home cover eventually snuffed that move out, blue jerseys were there in numbers to retain possession. Hastings did well to first of all take the ball at ankle level and then pick out impressive new boy Haining with a clever kick-pass – but the move fizzled out when Zander Fagerson was penalised for holding on.

The first half could not have gone much better for Scotland, but they were still four points down at the turnaround.

Two ruck penalties – the first against Rory Sutherland almost immediately from kick-off, and the second against Jamie Ritchie for not getting out of the way quickly enough after a tackle right in front of the posts – allowed Ireland to roll into gear at the start of the second half with another Sexton three points.

But Scotland did not allow that to deviate them from the task in hand, and some excellent continuity play on the Irish line finally prised open space on the right for what should have been a nailed-on try for a player of the experience and calibre of Stuart Hogg, but astonishingly – and excruciatingly – the Scotland captain lost control in the act of grounding, despite being under no pressure at all.

Scotland had to make do with another Hastings penalty for an infringement earlier in that move, which was some consolation and put them back to within four points. Sexton cancelled that out when Jamie Ritchie was penalised again for interfering with the ball on the deck after a tackle in front of his own posts, and the see-saw pattern continued when CJ Stander went off his feet and Hastings nailed the points.

As the game moved into the final 10 minutes, it was finely balanced, and the decisive moment came when Johnson deliberately tried to edge Conway off his stride as he chased a kick ahead. The Irish winger didn’t need a second invitation to hit the deck and while Hastings was clearly furious afterwards at Conway’s amateur dramatics, there was no doubt that there had been unnecessary contact.

Scotland piled everything into one final tilt at glory, with Stuart McInally and Hamish Watson leading the charge as play surged towards the Irish line, but the blue jerseys couldn’t make that crucial final six inches, and twice they lost the ball on the deck during a tense last three minutes.

A hellishly frustrating day for Scotland. The big difference between the two teams was that Ireland made their opponents work hard for everything they got, while Scotland are still too generous at crucial moments.

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Teams –

Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, H Jones (C Harris 64), S Johnson (R Hutchinson 72), B Kinghorn; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 64); R Sutherland (A Dell 64), F Brown (S McInally 45-50, 56), Z Fagerson (W Nel 72), S Cummings, J Gray (B Toolis 64) J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining (C du Preez 72).

Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose (R Henshaw 40), B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (R Byrne 72), C Murray (J Cooney, 59); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 49-51, Porter 65), R Herring (R Kelleher 72), T Furlong (C Healey 77), I Henderson (D Toner 66), J Ryan, C Stander, J van der Flier, C Doris (P O’Mahony 4).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)


Scorers –

Ireland: Tries: Sexton; Cons: Sexton; Pen: Sexton 4.

Scotland: Pen: Hastings 4.

Scoring sequence (Ireland first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-6; 10-6 (h-t) 13-6; 13-9; 16-9; 16-12; 19-12.

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About David Barnes 3821 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. The difference?

    When ireland got into our 22 they converted scoring opportunity into scores on the board. The stats don’t lie. That was our game to win from within the first five minutes and we let the opportunities slide past us.

    Ireland, when it really matters, do the simple things really well. Its almost as if Townsend only wants to win when the footie is spectacular, and the odds are stacked against us.

    Ireland are nothing if not predictable…

  2. Agree with Mr Keir, that ref did us no favours, Irish back row looked equally guilty.
    What was penalty count? Scotsman inconveniently did not include it this morning.

  3. It saddens me to highlight a lack of professionalism cost us the game. Stupid errors that other teams don’t make seem to be an inevitable part of our performance. We had the possession, but we surrendered it far too easily and often. No lessons were learned and it continued throughout. Idiotic penalties were conceded throughout too, again, no lessons learned. Hogg’s failure to score a try is unforgivable and cost his team dear. The forwards did the good things well and Hastings only offered one flaky moment, so some encouragement can be taken. I suspect Russell on a good day might have unlocked the Irish defence more frequently and more effectively, but his bad days are costly too, so Hastings did well enough. We could have won that game, but we didn’t, again. That happens too often.

  4. A great effort from all on the park.

    Somebody needs to have a word with Hoggy about his enthusiastic but fake celebration after he knew he’d dropped it – basically trying to con the officials. It does him and us no favours. To be fair to him, his head must have been in turmoil at that moment, but still unacceptable.

    • Funny I’ve seen a lot of comments like yours – I’m pretty sure 99.9% of these situations the attacker celebrates, psychoanalysis of whether the player believes they did/didn’t score not withstanding.

  5. Your players ratings are a bit odd I just watched the game in NZ and their commentators thought the the ref had done Scotland no favours

  6. There was in the game, as of Scotland pre Cotter, disappointingly I believe a failure in key descion making to make their opportunities in to trys/points. Playing into the contact and the Irish hands,instead of space. But off course positives to take forward.

  7. Well, we were never expected to win, so a losing bonus point could come in handy. Major areas to work on but some good stuff too. I would keep Hastings on at 10 for the England game, or, if Finn comes back, at least give Adam a run off the bench. But lots of technical stuff to be learnt in how to not give up the ball, and how to avoid silly penalties (some very silly). At least the Irish knew they had been in a test match.

  8. Frustrating spectating experience. So many good things damned by really stupid penalties.

    Townsend will be livid

    So cut out the errors and something good could emerge from this

  9. Losing is never a triumph of any sort. That is part of our problem we accept poor technique and dropped balls.

    • I cant believe the naivity of townsend. He is taking issue over finn and says no player is greater than the team. Look at his attitude towards finn over the years, SRU’s attitude to Finns father, SRU’s attitude off field with salaries and comments during world cup, talk about double standards. The worst is gregor will keep his job even when we come fifth again in the 6 nations, where is the justice

  10. Can’t fault the effort but it was the same old mistakes that let us down.Lost lineouts in the Irish half, passes going to ground and idiotic penalties combined with a gash kicking game. As for Hoggy…………………!

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