Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Kidney edging towards exit

Ireland's Craig Gilroy is tackled by Tim Visser
Ireland's Craig Gilroy is tackled by Tim Visser

You could just sense that this was coming but, even so, what unfolded was still deeply unsettling to witness.

In a macabre twist, Ireland essentially became what Scotland, up until this season, have been widely renowned for; namely having the ball for an age and methodically recycling it, and occasionally line-breaking, but fundamentally not doing anywhere near enough with it.

Ireland dominated possession, they ate up all the territory but they forgot to do the needful where it really mattered by getting the Murrayfield scoreboard moving along with them.

In fact, they became so muddled that Ronan O’Gara had to be brought on to rescue the sinking ship and then promptly added to the buckling vessel by putting in a banana kick infield to Rob Kearney, presumably thinking something was on, until he actually directed it towards Tim Visser who hacked it down towards Ireland’s line.

The net result was the concession of the penalty that meant only a try would now do in those last few minutes of frantic fumbling from the men in green.

While they were beaten up by England in the wind and rain of Dublin, this time Ireland essentially managed to defeat themselves and generously grant Scotland a victory that, well, the home side might just have deserved simply because they had to work so hard for so long, without having anywhere near enough of said ball and they even survived the early sin-binning of Ryan Grant without conceding.

But for all Scotland’s endeavours — and certainly running with the ball or creating scoring chances weren't on their agenda — you still can’t escape the unavoidable fact that Ireland could and should have won this game.

That they failed to do so came down to a combination of factors, each one eating away at the team’s confidence.

Many had feared that Paddy Jackson’s goal-kicking would prove an Achilles heel and so it came to pass with a solitary success off the tee, coming as no great surprise when a player who hasn’t even been taking the kicks for Ulster was suddenly exposed to the intensity of a Six Nations clash.

True, he hit the upright with the conversion attempt of Craig Gilroy’s try, but the small margins are what matter and another costly error was when he went for length from a touch-finder off another penalty and missed his target, allowing the Scots to kick back and, typically, win a penalty on and all too rare visit to the Irish 22 which saw Greig Laidlaw get their first points.

Not that Jackson is solely responsible for what went wrong, far from it and, indeed, his distribution and tackling were notably good on his first cap.

But to leave eight points out there from the tee still did severe damage and this was always the risk when Declan Kidney — who probably now knows his time in the job is nearly up — made his decision regarding Jackson’s selection.

However, Ireland should not have required Jackson to bisect the uprights with greater regularity and their butchering of three try-scoring chances in the first half was hugely profligate to their cause before Gilroy finally spun his way over early in the second half after a fine burst from Sean O’Brien.

Ireland had wanted to move the ball around the park at pace and use the ball skills of Jackson and Luke Marshall — who certainly made a marvellous early impression, just as he did against Fiji — to make things happen either outside them or through nice running lines coming back in against the grain.

They had also wanted to shift the point of attack and keep the momentum going through strong ball-carrying and quick recycling but their distribution and vision let them down at vital moments as did Marshall's hands in that last frantic attack.

Marshall also really should have found Gilroy steaming up outside him before 10 minutes had elapsed and, even earlier than that his first leg-pumping break put Keith Earls in space and the winger brought the ball into contact, with Brian O’Driscoll momentarily free outside him.

The move eventually ended in a penalty award which saw Ireland kick for the corner and then, promptly, lose the lineout.

As if once wasn’t bad enough, Earls then went and did it again with an even more glaring sense of white-line fever when Jackson found him in space and this time the Munster man was run out by two Scotland defenders with O’Driscoll screaming for him to pass it right for what seemed a certain score for the great man.

Indeed, O’Gara’s late cross-kick for Luke Fitzgerald was another of those moments when a confident player would have collected and potentially scored, but by this stage Ireland were in panic mode.

Then we had the lineouts and what grim viewing they were as well.

With Jim Hamilton flapping his arms in the air and waving at Rory Best, while he prepared to pick out a rising green shirt, it just seemed the communication lines were well and truly down.

Four throws were lost while Ireland attempted to get something going in Scotland’s 22, with one being crooked and the others sailing long and into grateful Scottish arms.

When they decided to keep the throw simple, there was a much better return and to go long cost Ireland dearly in that first half of total dominance while lineout caller Donncha Ryan must also take some of the blame.

As for the scrums, well, they also badly under-performed with Tom Court not making the impression he had wanted and Ireland ended up getting penalised or poor ball.

So, with so much going wrong it was probably little surprise that the Scots stole away with this one.

But it was a case, though, of Ireland tripping themselves up, rather than Scotland scorching through to register extremely rare back-to-back Six Nations victories.

And you now wonder where Ireland go from here and if there is even more uncomfortable viewing to come when a misfiring France come calling.

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