STUART BATHGATE @ Scotstoun
SCOTLAND suffered a second successive Six Nations defeat last night, going down to an Ireland team who have improved considerably since losing the last time the teams met a year ago. On a wet and windy evening, pack power was always likely to be the key factor in the match, and although the Scottish scrum held its own for much of the game, Ireland’s forwards had the better of the battle in the loose.
But Ireland, while more efficient in that and most other aspects of the game, did not look innately superior to Scotland. The home team, as they had done a week earlier when going down 28-7 to Italy, appeared hesitant at times and hurried at others.
It was a performance which riled Scotland’s normally patient head coach Shade Munro. “Not good enough, to be honest,” was his verdict after the game. “The learnings we got from the game against Italy we really didn’t put in place at all.
“It just didn’t start well and we didn’t seem to get out of that. We had periods when we defended well, but I’ve seen it too often before that we defend well through 10 phases, 11 phases, and then just 12 phases score. We’ve got to stop hoping that the opposition are not going to score: we need to be stopping them scoring.”
Although no member of Munro’s squad could be said to have had an outstanding game, there were at least some individuals who showed up well. Hannah Smith took her try with some aplomb, and although there are still times when she should pass rather than follow her inclination to go it alone, the centre has been a definite plus point since returning from injury.
Scrum-half Mhairi Grieve also injected some extra zip into the attack, orchestrating the tempo well during those all too rare passages of play in which Scotland were on top. And Chloe Rollie displayed her usual keenness to get involved, especially on the counter-attack.
But, as Munro went on to explain, this defeat was not down to a few individuals playing well and a few more playing badly. There was a general malaise about the team which appeared to come from a more deep-seated lack of confidence – a defect which can only in part be ascribed to the absence through injury of Jade Konkel, who remains Scotland’s most influential player by some distance.
“It’s a team mind set,” the coach continued. “It’s not individuals. Someone like Lana [Skeldon], for example, lays it on the line every time she plays. There’s good performances, but as a team they’ve got to learn to be a bit more relentless in what they do. They need to take the game by the scruff of the neck rather than just hoping that it’s going to go OK.
“They didn’t do themselves justice here. They let themselves down a wee bit.”
Ireland, who lost 51-7 at home to England a week earlier, were on top right from the kick-off, and after opting to run a couple of penalties opened their account when Aoife McDermott crashed over for an unconverted try. The home side gradually got their game together after going behind, and drew level through Smith from a miss pass by Grieve.
On a night when a combination of the swirling wind and heavy drizzle made handling difficult, both sides managed to put together some impressive handling moves. Ireland had the better of the latter stages of the first half, and regained the lead with the clock in red when tighthead prop Leah Lyons forced her way over from close range after a penalty to touch had set up good position.
The second half began in the same way as the first, with the Irish exerting sustained pressure. A series of forward drives took them ever closer to the goal line, and with the Scots defence gathering centrally, the ball went out along the backs, allowing Alison Miller to finish off in the left corner.
Upping the tempo in the knowledge that a fourth try would kill off the contest as well as securing the bonus point, Ireland steadily wore Scotland down with a series of short drives and got that crucial score through Anna Caplice just before the hour mark. Nicole Fowley got the first successful conversion of the night, and the visitors were home if not exactly dry.
Skeldon accepted that Scotland had put in a below-par performance. “At half-time we were starting to push them, but in the second half we were just not quite hitting it,” the hooker said. “At points there’s a lack of composure and our decision-making is slightly off and we’re not working hard enough. We have the potential to be a better team than Ireland: we just didn’t execute what we were trying to do tonight at all.”
Scotland: C Rollie; E Musgrove (R Lloyd 59), H Smith, L Thomson (capt), A Sergeant; H Nelson (L Martin 68), M Grieve (S Law 51); L Cockburn (M Forsyth 69), L Skeldon, M Kennedy, E Wassell, D McCormack (N Howat 41), R Malcolm (S Anderson 76), R McLachlan (J Rettie 66), S Bonar.
Ireland: L Delany; E Considine, S Naoupu, M Claffey, A Miller (M Williams 64); N Fowley ( E Murphy 73), A Hughes (K Dane 60); L Feely (L Djougang 67), E Hooban (D Nic a Bhaird 60), L Lyons (F Reidy 73), A McDermott, N Fryday, A Caplice (C McLaughlin 70), C Molloy (C Boles 60), C Griffin (capt).
Scorers: Scotland: Try: Smith.
Ireland: Tries: McDermott, Lyons, Miller, Caplice. Con: Fowley.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, 5-5, 5-10 half-time, 5-15, 5-20, 5-22.
Referee: B Benvenuti (Italy).