The Irish team made less mistakes to win the game in reasonable comfort against the home team. Scotland 13-22 Ireland.
Despite a bright opening by the Scots, who secured the opening three points of the game through a penalty, they were quickly pinned back in their own twenty-two.
The Irish out half was subject to a few strong hits as he took the ball close to the line. Ultimately he would leave the pitch a lot earlier than planned.
It wa a late hit on Hogg that caused the first drama of the match. The officials did not react to it, as he was hit attempting to chase his own clearance. Slow to get to his feet, there was a gap in the back field.
The Irish recovered the ball and whipped it out wide to Stockdale who in turn chipped it forward. But a misunderstanding between the two wingers left the ball for Murray to scoop up and score.
Sexton picked himself up slowly, clearly in pain, and scuffed the ball wide. Clearly not happy. Hogg hobbled back to his own side.
The injury forced Hogg off the pitch a few minutes later, after being targeted by Johnny Sexton with a high ball, which he dealt with but was obviously in pain and could not continue.
An Irish line out set piece provided the next Irish score a few minutes. Deft hands from Sexton created a hole for Stockdale to charge through, with Sexton taking his third of fourth big hit in the process.
The conversion, right under the posts was left to Murray, who slotted it easily to give Ireland a two-score lead at 3-12.
Sexton also bypassed kicking a penalty won from a scrum. He was definitely not happy out there and Carberry’s introduction was only a few minutes away.
Ireland had a few close escapes, giving uncharacteristic penalties to give their hosts territory. But ultimately mistakes from Scotland, including a forward pass which the TMO was asked to rule on, hindered their game.
What gave them a route back into the game was an Irish mistake. Carberry, only on the pitch for a few moments, was intercepted by Finn Russel and the Scot ran the length of the pitch.
Earls’s last ditch tackle only postponed the score by a few seconds as the out half popped the ball perfectly for the chasing Sam Johnson. The game was back on 10-12.
The half closed with the Scots on top. Ireland struggled to make ground when they had the ball, and for the second week in a row, their kicking game was sub-standard. Their scramble defence kept them in it, but the penalty count was rising.
When the home side had a line out on the Irish 5 meter line, it did not look good for Ireland. James Ryan made a great steal, but as the ball bobbled into the dead ball area, bouncing off the corner flag, all Best could do was tap it down. Scrum-five for Scotland.
The final five minutes of the first half was a defence drill for Ireland. Sometimes stopping the opposition scoring is as good as getting one yourself. The attacking phase ended with a knock-on.
The Ireland defence had to deal with everything that Scotland had: carries up the middle and smart ball out wide, but they held on well and were probably satisfied with a two point lead at halftime.
While Aki was central to the defence and also involved in most of the good attacks Ireland made, I felt he sometimes lost concentration in the second half. On one notable occasion Murray overthrew the ball and Aki, rather than scrambling to recover it, was at walking pace. Penalty Scotland on that occasion.
There were many questionable decisions in the match. You could sense that both sides were becoming frustrated with Poite’s decision making.
Peter O’Mahony did not agree with rulings at the breakdown. The look of scorn he gave the referee after one questionable decision would have reduced many grown men to tears, but Poite ignore him and kept refereeing the game the way he does.
On two occasions he allowed Ireland a twenty meter advantage from a penalty. When we lost the ball (both times it was a Rob Kearney break) he blew up and back we went for the penalty.
Speaking of Rob Kearney, he looked in great form. He made a number of breaks, both down the wing and through the centre, one of which led to the next score.
The ball just got back to Joey Carberry via O’Brien, but he looked like he was going to get swallowed by two fast approaching Scottish forwards. Somehow he rode the tackles and when he came out the other side he had the no one in front of him.
He was closed down in the twenty-two, but a beautifully floated pass out to Keith Earls set the winger up for a score, which he ran under the posts. The pass might have floated forward, but the direction from Carberry’s hands was definitely backwards and Poite did not look for a review. 10-19 on 52 minutes.
The teams traded penalties but there was little change to the script after that try. Ireland built up long periods of pressure, phase after phase, but gaining nothing.
Scotland would eventually get the ball back, looking lively in how they broke into our half, but time and again, a knock on or poor pass handed possession right back to Ireland.
Both teams were chasing a bonus point at this stage, but it was dreary stuff. You got the feeling that Ireland could simply not unlock the Scottish defence and the Scots could not help dropping the ball.
A win is a win. There will be no catching England this year, I fear, but all that talk of bonus points being necessary this year was probably boulder-dash anyway. I cannot see France stopping them tomorrow. Nor will this Scottish team make an impact.
There is some hope that the Welsh can do it. Their experimental team against Italy will blood some players and expand the experience pool, but does not give any insight into their strongest team. We won’t mention their opposition tonight who are just making up the numbers.
So Ireland should only really expect second place. Is it worth even fighting for that? Not at any cost surely; no one remembers who came second. Let’s get Carberry some time at ten, and some of the other fringe players a bit more time in jersey. The warm up games are too late for any real experience to be earned.
Speaking of Joey Carberry, I felt he had a strong game. At least after he recovered from the intercept try. He was sensible in his pass selection, and his break for the game wining try was superb, showing he can be a strong carrier also.
Is he smarter than Sexton? Is he more composed? Can he be trusted with the keys to the car now? I think so. Let‘s wrap Johnny in cotton wool for the next forth-night and see what Joey can do.
That might sound self-serving, coming from a Leinster supporter with an eye on the business end of the domestic and European season, but I think it could make Ireland a stronger outfit, with a few more tricks up our sleeve for the World Cup.