Ireland somehow scrambled out of a technically dire match clutching a victory. But if anyone in Irish rugby believes this represents anything approaching hope for the future, they are deluding themselves.
Scotland were dreadful, Ireland almost as bad. Once again, Ireland gave away so many penalties they would have had coach Declan Kidney tearing his hair out on the sidelines, had he got any.
Against France two weeks ago, Ireland scored three tries to one yet lost because France punished their rank indiscipline with six penalty goals. It was almost an identical story at Murrayfield, Scotland landing five goals and coming within an ace of denying Ireland victory.
To see Ireland desperately trying to hang on through the final 10-15 minutes was the worst indictment possible of their performance.
Scotland, at one stage reduced to 14 men when prop Allan Jacobsen was yellow carded, were woeful for most of the game. They have no idea how to play the modern game and could only bash the ball up around the fringes. A quality side would have put them away so emphatically they’d have led by at least 25 points going into the final quarter.
Instead, as Ireland continued to give away penalties, Scotland suddenly sniffed a chance. They weren’t quite good enough to take it but that doesn’t excuse Ireland’s technically inept display.
It was a poor match from a technical perspective, with both sides making childish errors. Ireland found just about every means in the rule book to give away penalties or free kicks — hands in the ruck, offside, not releasing the tackled player, numbers in the line-out, not binding at the scrum, crooked line-out throws.
As against France, Ireland lost too many of their own line-outs. But it was the mistakes that undermined their entire game and almost cost them victory.
Their players seem unable to avoid the most ludicrous acts of indiscipline and as long as they continue in that vein, they have no chance of taking their game forward.
It was as well for Ireland that Scotland’s defence was inept for all three tries. Jamie Heaslip, Eoin Reddan and Ronan O’Gara all crossed the Scottish line without a hand being laid on them.
That just doesn’t happen in proper international rugby.
But then, what this technically poor game did was emphasise the poverty of northern hemisphere rugby at this time, England and probably France excepted. Good players don’t keep on making stupid mistakes, but Ireland’s squad seems incapable of sustaining the levels of concentration required in the international game these days.
Only once, shortly before half-time when they put together a movement of 16 phases, did Ireland show that they could bring continuity and momentum to their game. But typically, they ruined it by not releasing the ball after a tackle and conceded a penalty.
For me, only Ronan O’Gara and David Wallace could hold their heads up to any degree. O’Gara brought much needed shape and direction to the Irish game while Wallace was a non-stop presence, foraging industriously at the breakdown, tackling everywhere, handling and supporting the ball carrier as well.
Ireland go to Wales next before entertaining England in Dublin.
They won’t win either game unless they raise their performance level from this ordinary display.