DAVID BARNES @ Netherdale
ANOTHER tough evening for the young Scots, who once again showed their potential in flashes, and certainly made their opponents work for their win, but they were always on the back foot against a typically physical and well-organised Irish outfit who were well worth the win.
Carl Hogg’s boys can take some comfort from the fact that – unlike England last week – they prevented Ireland picking up the bonus point, but the bottom line is that they are now zero from two, with a tough trip to France looming over the horizon.
The really frustrating thing for Scotland is that they handled playing into a ferocious wind really well in the first half and were only ten points behind at the break, but they couldn’t kick on from there and ended up spending most of that second period camped inside their own 22.
“I thought it was more than a ten-point wind and we had a couple of opportunities in that first which could potentially have given us a foothold in the game,” said Hogg. “So, I felt at half-time that if we could get some field position in the second-half then we were very much in the game. But I don’t think we managed the conditions to our benefit and it ended up they sat inside our 22 for most of that half, which was disappointing.
“There were times in the second half when I would really have liked us to play quicker with the ball in hand. I thought Ireland were very narrow defensively and if we had played at more pace we would have been able to exploit that narrowness.
“On the whole, tonight we defended better than we did last week, so there were improvements in the team,” he concluded. “But we shouldn’t be pinned back inside our 22 for such long periods when the elements are in our favour. We’ve got to look at how we manage the game and understand that a single point or a two-phase play to get the ball down the field is what games like this are about. It is about being smart and finding that competitive edge, and unfortunately we weren’t able to do that.”
The Scots made the early running, but it was the visitors who drew first blood in the sixth minute when a fairly fortuitous bounce of the ball from a loose Irish pass set up the field position for stand-off Harry Byrne to send home a straight-forward offside penalty.
The home team rallied but struggled to find the quick ball they needed to stress Ireland’s well organised and aggressive push defence, meaning they went through over a dozen phases shifting left and right along the Irish 22 without any meaningful progress towards the try-line.
An offside penalty did hand home stand-off Ross Thompson a shot at goal which would have squared it, but his effort got caught in the wind and fell agonisingly short, and Ireland got themselves back on the front foot.
After open-side flanker Scott Penny had been held up over the line, Ireland extended their lead when hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin muscled his way to the scoring zone in the 21st minute, with Byrne adding the extras.
Scotland came within a whisker of biting right back through a driven line-out from a penalty kicked to the corner, but hooker Ewan Ashman lost control of the ball as he propelled himself for the score.
Irish centre Liam Turner looked dangerous with the ball in hand on a couple of occasions but didn’t have the support he needed on his shoulder as the game started to open up during the third quarter, while a little bit more composure from winger Jack Blain and then stand-off Thompson might have seen the Scots do some damage with a couple of adventurous attacks from deep.
A brave interjection from Jonathan Wren, swooping in head first to claim the ball as Blain bore down on his own kick ahead, derailed another promising Scottish attack just before the break.
The Irish were in front, but the Scots had stayed in touch and grown in confidence as the half wore on. The big question was whether they had enough left in the tank, both physically and psychologically, to harness the strong wind at their back and really turn the tables during the second period.
In the event, it was the Irish who dominated the second half, managing to control the ball better with the wind in their faces rather than at their backs.
An edginess in Scotland’s play led them to twice cough up possession in promising positions during the opening minutes of the second period, then slowly but surely the men in green started to crank up the pressure, although they struggled to break their opponent’s brave defence.
Loose-head Josh Wycherley lost the ball as he burrowed for the line, and careless hands in the centre put paid to another scoring opportunity, before the inevitable try came through number eight John Hodnett, at the end of a move which featured some typically strong running from Penny and Turner.
That was the score that killed off any lingering hope the Scots had of mounting an unlikely comeback, but to their credit they kept plugging away, despite losing Robbie McCallum to the sin-bin, and they got their reward with nine minutes to go when they managed to control the ball this time on a close-range line-out drive, and captain Connor Boyle received the plaudits for getting the ball down.
Ireland had the final say when Wren picked up the ball wide on the left just inside Scotland’s half and had more than enough gas slalom past last man Rufus McLean and over for the try.
Scotland: R McLean; R McMichael, C Anderson (M Davidson 48), R McCallum, J Blain; R Thompson (N Chamberlain 46), R Frostwick (K McGhie 60); M Walker (A Nimmo 72), E Ashman (A Fraser 63), E McLaren (W Hurd 63), E Johnson (R Bundy 60), C Henderson, C Jupp, C Boyle, K van Nierkirk (J Mann 56).
Ireland: J Fannery; C Phillips (R Russell 64), L Turner, D Hawkshaw, J Wren; H Byrne, C Foley (C Reilly 62); J Wycherley (M Milne 62), D Tierney-Martin (J McKee 62), T Clarkson, C Ryan, N Murray, M Moloney, S Penny (D McCann 63), J Hodnett.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (France)
Scotland: Try: Boyle.
Ireland: Tries: Tierney-Martin, Hodnett, Wren; Con: Byrne 3; Pen: Byrne.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3; 0-8; 0-10 (h-t) 0-15; 0-17; 5-17; 5-22; 5-24.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Ireland’s outside centre Liam Turner was a constant threat with the ball in hand, running good lines at pace and with plenty of power.