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Why Joe Schmidt is entitled to expect more from Ireland

Scotland 13-22 Ireland

By Jonathan Bradley

If the previous two run-outs with Ireland's frontliners - New Zealand in November and England nine days ago - produced the side's extreme high and equally severe low, then Saturday's victory over Scotland was pitched somewhere firmly in the middle.

Back on track in the Six Nations, but still lacking the fluency of their Grand Slam last year, Joe Schmidt's side bagged three tries in Murrayfield and were able to overcome the loss of linchpin out-half Johnny Sexton long before the half-time interval.

Their set-piece was near flawless even without three of their four first choice locks, while Sean O'Brien gave the back row a greater degree of balance absent in the galling opener.

Ending in the relative comfort of a nine-point buffer, Ireland recovered from seeing their 12-3 lead cut to two points when Sexton's replacement Joey Carbery threw an intercept pass leading to a score, but didn't appear likely to force the bonus point try.

At the end of a difficult week, Schmidt was satisfied, if still left wanting to see more from his side in the coming weeks.

"I think late changes, and the number of changes, then losing Johnny in behind," reflected the coach on why his side were perhaps lacking their usual efficiency in attack.

"I thought we scored those two tries and went up 12-3 I thought we might break the game open, get some fluency. Obviously losing Johnny didn't help then. I think people just became a little bit indisciplined when the intercept happened.

"You know we had advantage and we had gone back twice. I think it is our fault. We knocked off, we should have stayed on the game and realised that if it got played on and we threw something loose, you know, on advantage you know you can throw something looser because you know you can come back after that.

"We couldn't come after that because it was the try and then it was 12-10. I do think that we didn't play with the fluency that we are capable of, now part of that equation was the quality of the Scotland defence. They got off the line and they were incredibly physical. Twice Rob Kearney looked like he was almost away to score. He looked for Chris Farrell on the inside and if that pass goes to hand, Chris Farrell I think scores.

"We weren't far away from breaking down what's a really good defence. So I'm not distraught that we've got no options, I'm just frustrated I'd like us to be creating more opportunities so we can capitalise on more of them."

Sexton failed an HIA after leaving the field with a bloodied nose, not long after playing a key role in Jacob Stockdale's first try of the campaign that gave Ireland that 12-3 lead.

A Carbery pass was later plucked from the air by Finn Russell, and while Keith Earls was able to chase him down metres from the line, his popped pass from the turf created the try for Sam Johnson.

Carbery recovered though from that horror moment and darted between two colliding Scottish tacklers in the second half to set Earls away for the key try. Overall, Schmidt was pleased with how the adopted Munsterman dealt with his extended cameo.

"Anytime we get that opportunity for time for a guy like Joey he is going to profit from it," said the Kiwi.

"You know, he is growing into a player who can boss the team. His confidence took a little bit of a rock, a knock-back when he threw that intercept pass because, inevitably, suddenly 12-3 and a bit of breathing space and looking to play becomes 12-10 and not a lot of space or time to play in. Then there was a big defensive set just before half-time and he played his part in that really well.

"He showed more composure as the game went on I thought. He was a bit ruffled especially after that intercept.

"But you know what? That is good growth. That is good opportunity to say 'I am under pressure here now, the team is under pressure, I've got to stay in the game and I've still got to make good decisions and I've still to boss the team'."

Naturally, barring an unlikely title win, the remainder of Ireland's efforts in this campaign will be viewed through the prism of the autumn's World Cup when these two open their tournament against each other in Yokohama on September 22.

On the nine occasions that Ireland have met a Five or Six Nations rival at the World Cup - including both France and Italy last time around - seven times the winner on the day has been the side that secured victory in the last Championship meeting.

Schmidt though is hardly one to believe his side's recent record against the Scots will have much bearing in seven months time.

"We came here four years ago and won by 30 points but you don't come here and get anything easy now.

"Since that win, I'm not sure that they have lost (by that margin) here. It's one of those things that it's going to be tough in that first round of the World Cup. Does it worry me? Everything worries me.

"They've got some guys who deliver that physicality. Certainly, I thought Josh Strauss was a bit of a human wrecking ball. I'd love to see some of those tackles.

"If Johnny Gray didn't make 25 tackles in a game you'd say he was off-colour. He is a machine that guy. We're going to come up against him."

Schmidt added: "I think (Grant) Gilchrist is getting better all the time. (Jamie) Ritchie is a good young player and of course when you've got a wrecking ball like Strauss and you've got Ryan Wilson, he's the athlete that they were missing a little bit because he came off for them.

"So while we suffered a bit from losing players, (Stuart) Hogg and Ryan Wilson came off for them, two of their marquee players."

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, S Johnson, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw (c); A Dell, S McInally, S Berghan; G Gilchrist, J Gray; R Wilson, J Ritchie, R Strauss

Replacements: F Brown (for McInally,64), J Bhati (for Dell, 68), D Rae (for Berghan, 68), B Toolis, R Harley (for Wilson, 40), A Price (for Laidlaw, 68), P Horne (for Johnson, 64), B Kinghorn (for Hogg, 16)

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, C Farrell, B Aki, J Stockdale; C Murray, J Sexton; C Healy, R Best, T Furlong; J Ryan, Q Roux; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Conan

Replacements: S Cronin (for Best, 71) , D Kilcoyne (for Healy, 56), A Porter (for Furlong, 67), U Dillane (for Roux, 67), J Van Der Flier (for O'Brien, 64), J Cooney (for Murray, 76), J Carbery (for Sexton, 23), J Larmour (for Stockdale, 71)

Referee: R Poite

Star man: Paul O'Mahony.

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