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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 25 February, 2020
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'We probably gave them a bit too much respect' - Ireland off to worrying start

Joe Schmidt’s side now have ground to make up in the Six Nations.

Murray Kinsella reports from Edinburgh

IT WAS HARD for Irish supporters to begrudge Scotland their victory yesterday, and mainly because Vern Cotter’s side were better than Ireland over the course of their 27-22 success.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland fought back from a worrying half-time deficit to lead 22-21 moving into the final quarter of the game, but two late Greig Laidlaw penalties ensured the home side notched an opening-day Six Nations victory.

Tommy Bowe dejected Ireland let themselves down at Murrayfield. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Their scintillating start to the game did most of the damage, with two tries from the infectiously energetic Stuart Hogg and a genius – or catastrophic, depending on your view – lineout score from centre Alex Dunbar sending the Scots into a fine position.

Ireland’s poor start was familiar to anyone who watched their 2015 World Cup quarter-final against Argentina, and particularly so because we hadn’t seen anything like that since.

“We lost a few collisions and they made a few linebreaks,” said openside Sean O’Brien of the dire start.

“We were making a few poor decisions in D and sitting off them a little bit. It’s very fresh so we’ll have to go back and look at it to see exactly, but that’s what it felt like out there. We probably just gave them a little bit too much respect early on.”

Scotland certainly didn’t give Ireland too much respect, with the build-up having seen them talk down the Irish achievement against New Zealand in November, point to having rattled Conor Murray before, and speak about the pressure on out-half Paddy Jackson.

It was a mouthy approach, as Ronan O’Gara noted on RTÉ pre-match, but the Scots did back up their chippy chat with aggressive actions at Murrayfield.

All the big plays in the opening stanza were from Scots – the powerful hits, the gainline-busting carries, the aggressive ruck hits and the intelligent lineout steals.

“I think it would have to be,” said Scotland head coach Vern Cotter when asked if it was his side’s best win.  “I’m really happy for the players that put in so much work, it validates that work.

Sean O'Brien Sean O'Brien was good on his return from injury. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It certainly changes the dynamic, to start the Six Nations with a win. But it’s only one game. I know their feet will be firmly on the ground to make sure we back this up with another good performance.”

Scotland will move on to a trip to Paris with their confidence buoyed, while Ireland must now realistically look for a bonus-point win away to Italy in round two.

Conor O’Shea’s side face Wales in the final clash of the opening round this afternoon, so Schmidt will be an interested observer.

Ireland did pick up a losing bonus point at Murrayfield and O’Brien believes their title challenge is still on.

“Of course it is, that’s your mindset and what we have to be going after,” said O’Brien. “We’ll pull ourselves together this week and re-group and put in a performance next weekend.

“We just didn’t convert some of the stuff we did create when we did get back into the game. At this level, if you give any international side a lead and momentum like that, they start to come back.”

Ireland seem unlikely to make wholesale changes for the trip to Rome, although there is an outside chance that out-half Johnny Sexton will be back in the mix.

We know that Ireland’s injury updates must be taken with a liberal pinch of salt and Paddy Jackson did lots of things well in Murrayfield, but a fit Sexton is an automatic choice for Schmidt.

Paddy Jackson scores their third try Paddy Jackson scored a second-half try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“To be honest, I’m not sure at this stage,” said Schmidt on Sexton yesterday.

“We’re going to wait and see. Johnny wasn’t that far away so he could come into the picture, but the more time that Paddy gets running the team, and the Six Nations is a little bit different to what he’s done in the past in South Africa.

“It was tough for Paddy today because when you’re not winning collisions and your ball is very slow, it’s hard to get things moving and running. The reverse was true for Finn Russell, who I thought looked super in the first half and not so good in the second half. The landscape had changed.”

And that’s what gave Schmidt and his players some belief as they flew back to Dublin last night. Despite the disastrous first half, they won the second period 14-6 and managed to shore up some of the alarming concerns of the first half.

“We spilled a few balls when we did get in behind them in good positions, especially in their 22,” said O’Brien, speaking about what Ireland can improve. “I think we lost two or three in the last 20 minutes and that takes momentum away from us and swings it in their favour.

“[We need to be] a little bit more urgent. It was a little bit lethargic on both sides of the ball in that first 20 minutes. That’s what let us down.”

Ireland are down, but they’re not quite out just yet.

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Murray Kinsella

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