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Ireland far too brittle in Scotland victory

Peter Bills


John Cooney

New Ireland coach Andy Farrell probably doesn't tear his hair out. But he might have been ripping out lumps of his beard as his team somehow clung on for victory at Lansdowne Road.

The kind of desperate last moment defensive heroics by which Ireland edged home weren't in the Farrell script. The new era was supposed to be fun and fizzing. We'd been told the players were loving it, having fun in training and enjoying freedom from the rigid Joe Schmidt years.

But Ireland's men weren't laughing by the end. They certainly weren't loving it, either. Scotland launched wave after wave of physical assaults on the Irish line. Only desperate defence, marshalled by man of the match CJ Stander, kept them out and salved Ireland's tight win.

When it was over, Ireland somehow dragged themselves off the field. They will be black and blue and will be lucky to get out of bed this morning.

But there was one consolation for Farrell's men in an eight-penalty goal shoot out. They won when they should have lost. Scotland were all over them like a rash for the whole 80 minutes. And Irish composure vanished as the swarming Scots turned the match into an almighty scrap.

Scotland had courage, physicality and bravery. It was lucky for Ireland that the Scots completely lacked any composure or invention when it came to finishing. I lost count of the number of times Scotland got into the Irish 22 and threw away their chance with mistakes and indiscipline.

Scotland can't play any proper attacking rugby and they certainly aren't clinical enough to finish off their chances. But they can make a right royal mess of a game and they did that in buckets at the Aviva. But one man was chiefly responsible for that.

Matches at this level deserve better refereeing than French whistler Mathieu Raynal provided. At times, he seemed to be refereeing on the advice of his assistants. Within the first 15 minutes, he was apologising to the Irish players for missing a clear offence.

That set the tone for chaos. Players began to question all his decisions. And they went on doing it the whole game. Clearly, he wasn't in control of the match and missed far too much. Oh for a Nigel Owens.

Raynal's worst offence was failing to police the offside line. That meant that any attacking play off first phase ball was virtually strangled at birth for much of the first half. The defenders were offside constantly, shutting down space and time for the side in possession. If a referee allows that, you have no game.

But in fairness to Raynal, his wasn't the only bog-standard performance. Players from both sides made elementary errors. Both missed touch from their own penalties, unforgiveable at this level.

Scottish indiscipline was appalling. They poured into the Irish 22 time and again and either spilled the ball or conceded penalties with indiscipline. The way they set out to intimidate the Irish physically was alarming. Players charged into rucks without using their arms in tackles. Some were penalised, many weren't.

Ireland were desperately unlucky to lose new No. 8 Caelan Doris after just four minutes. The blow he took almost knocked him senseless.

Ireland kept complaining to the referee. But it was obvious they had a far more potent attack out wide and should have focused more on that. The Scots' scrambling defence was fully employed trying to shut them down.

Ulster's Jacob Stockdale made one long run down the left and showed his team-mates what might be possible.

New scrum half John Cooney looked a wise old bird when he came on after 59 minutes. The Ulster half back coolly kicked the ball into the corners and kept it in front of his forwards. Which was just what was needed at that stage.

Scotland's stupid obstruction of Andrew Conway handed Johnny Sexton his fourth goal to make it 19-12 and give Ireland just enough of an advantage.

But it was desperately slim. With Wales and England next up, Farrell will know better than anyone another display like this won't be good enough.

Yesterday, Ireland almost made Scotland look good. That's not good enough.

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