1. Ireland’s Defence
Throughout the autumn series, Ireland’s defence in the wider channels was exposed by sides who had the ambition to fix defenders and move the ball at pace.
This issue has persisted into the Six Nations it seems. Very often in the first half the Scotland created quick ruck ball, fixed Ireland’s midfield defence with players running hard and straight before shifting the ball into the hands of Stuart Hogg.
Using his Super Rugby experience, Huw Jones was particularly adept at this, creating space for the danger men out wide.
Ireland were also guilty of looking into the ruck far too often and not maintaining their focus on Scotland’s width. This cost Ireland dearly in the first half.
2. Ireland’s Attack
Although Ireland dominated possession and territory throughout the first half, they rarely looked like being able to breach the Scottish defence.
This had a lot to do with the fact that Ireland were not supporting their ball carriers, allowing Scotland to get their hands on the ball and slow it down. As a result, Ireland became predictable with one-off runners.
This changed in the second half, when Ireland began to put numbers into the breakdown and take the ball around the corner. The lead up to Iain Henderson’s try demonstrated what Ireland could do by taking Scotland on around the fringes.
3. Scotland’s Persistence and Aggression
Scotland looked very comfortable without the possession during the first half, identifying Ireland’s ball carriers, using one man to make the tackle and a second to slow down the ball.
This was a hugely effective and simple tactic to deploy against a team who emphasise maintaining possession over creating quick ball.
Furthermore, the manner in which Scotland were able to strike back after going behind in the final quarter was admirable. They never panicked and stuck to the game plan that served so well in the first half.
Indeed, in contrast to Ireland, Scotland were more than willing to throw numbers into the breakdown to secure possession and milk a penalty from Paddy Jackson.
4. Has Rory Best Damaged His Lions Captaincy
The answer to that yes. It wasn’t the fact that his missed a number of throws at the line out. It has was more to do with his inability to take his side by the scruff of the neck and say we need to change tact.
Ireland’s leadership group shouldn’t need to wait for the half time whistle in order to adapt their strategy. Joe Schmidt can’t play the game, the players themselves must be able to identify what is going wrong and how to fix it.
Best, Heaslip, O’Brien and Murray need to to make it clear that more bodies are needed at the breakdown or the defence needs to fan out.
5. Ireland’s Selection
To their credit, Scotland attacked Ireland at the breakdown and moved the ball wide using their more mobile back row.
Although Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson and Josh Strauss may not be better players than Stander, O’Brien and Heaslip, as a back row combination the Scottish trio offered more balance.
While Wilson offered Scotland an out ball at the back of the line-out, Ireland struggled to retain their own due to the fact that neither Stander, O’Brien or Heaslip are natural jumpers. This made it easy for the Gray brothers to contest Rory Best’s throw.
Ireland had also selected three back row players whose strength lies in their ability to carrying the ball, and are not best suited to clearing out at ruck time.
Put simply, Sean O’Brien cannot carry the ball and clear out at the same time, the same can be said of Stander and Heaslip who were all used in rotation.
This has been an Irish failing for some time, and something that needs to be addressed by the possible inclusion of Josh van der Flier.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s edition of The Oval Office, we discuss all things Six Nations with George Hook, Paul Williams from Rugby World magazine and former Ireland u-20 international Adam McBurney.