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We haven't blown our Six Nations hopes: Ireland coach Joe Schmidt

Kiwi admits Championship glory will now be difficult but Wales' 2013 heroics can serve as inspiration to Irish

By Jonathan Bradley

Late to arrive and slow to start, Ireland's Six Nations campaign got off to the most sluggish of beginnings in Murrayfield on Saturday.

The team bus got stuck in Edinburgh traffic on the way to the stadium and the match-day transport wasn't the only thing slow out of the traps as the visitors couldn't live with Scotland's early attacking thrust and conceded three first-half tries, man of the match Stuart Hogg providing a brace before Alex Dunbar caught Ireland napping at the line-out.

Despite such a dawdling start, Ireland got themselves back into it and led with less than 10 minutes remaining.

A first-half response from Keith Earls was supplemented by scores from Ulster pair Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson after the turn, the latter's conversion of his own try giving Ireland their first advantage with the finish line in sight.

But two late Greig Laidlaw penalties ensured that the side that came in with such confidence having conquered each of the southern hemisphere superpowers over the last eight months would not escape punishment for such a lacklustre opening as the Scots closed out their first opening weekend win, 27-22, since 2006.

Head coach Joe Schmidt, however, ruled out complacency and refused to blame their rushed arrival as a reason for a defeat which leaves no margin for error in his quest for a third title in four seasons.

"It wasn't complacency," said the Kiwi. "Sometimes you can just have an expectation that things are going to unfold and when they don't, you've got to take account of that and make sure you do what you need to.

"We arrived about 15 minutes late and we were late for most things all first half. We were certainly on time leaving the hotel, it just took a long time. Those things happen.

"It's not an excuse for being late to things in the first half. It's just a reflection of how the start of the day went for us.

"We were sluggish. We got some really good field position in that first half and didn't convert, and that was frustrating.

"I felt that they got too much room to move and we were sluggish to close that space down and missed tackles."

With a team selection boasting plenty of physical carriers, Ireland lost a surprisingly high amount of collisions, while Scotland ensured their ball was slowed all day long at the breakdown.

It was without possession, however, that the side looked most out of sorts.

In many ways - from a poor start, an all too narrow defence and the overhauling of a big deficit only to let things slip again in the closing stages - the game bore a striking resemblance to the World Cup defeat to Argentina back in 2015.

And with Ireland again giving up three tries, Schmidt admitted that there was plenty of food for thought come the video review in Carton House.

"You never want to concede tries," he said. "The tries we conceded were frustrating.

"The line-out one, the two down the left hand side that Stuart Hogg scored were frustrating especially as we know the danger he represents.

"We'll try to make sure that what we talk about doing and what we train to do, we deliver it on the pitch.

"I think there was a bit of a contrast between the first and second half. I do think we got a lot right defensively in the second half, because they do have some fairly lethal attackers.

"They didn't really look like breaking us down in the second half. That was 40 minutes too late but I think there were solutions that were demonstrated.

"The key thing for us is that we've got to start better."

And so the focus switches to Italy in the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, a venue where Ireland lost the season before Schmidt took charge.

While there will be a certain need to lick wounds, the former Leinster boss said he will be reminding his charges that - just as Wales proved in 2013 - you can lose your first game and still be the side celebrating on the final day.

"It's far from ideal, and the defeat is tough to take, but it was always potentially a reality coming here," he added. "We knew that these guys had improved and I think Vern Cotter has done a great job with them.

"There is a disappointment there as when you get from the bottom of the mountain and you get back up, you are 21-5 down and you get 22-21 ahead, that is a fair bit of hard work that goes into that and then to let that slip, there is massive disappointment. Just at the start of the Championship you cannot allow it to linger too long, although I think it is okay to let it linger a little bit.

"The Championship now looks like a very tough one to win.

"But we know we're not out of it. We did pick up that (losing) bonus point.

"I think we've just got to try to go to Italy now and make sure we've got five or six points out of these first two games, and try to really get some momentum into the back half of the Championship."

Belfast Telegraph


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