Aidan Smith: 'Ireland didn’t get where they are today by standing back and admiring Scotland’s dangermen'

Now where were we? Ah yes, Twickenham 2015, a blunder from the referee that we’d struggle to quantify until Brexit came along, and Scotland snatching defeat from the jaws of World Cup victory.
A dejected Finn Russell trudges off the pitch in Yokohama after a difficult World Cup openerA dejected Finn Russell trudges off the pitch in Yokohama after a difficult World Cup opener
A dejected Finn Russell trudges off the pitch in Yokohama after a difficult World Cup opener

So we gathered at 8.45am round breakfast bars to watch the thistle-breasted braves try, try and try again, this time in Yokohama, a second city which the Japan guidebooks recommend for a cool vibe, foot baths and microbreweries. A quarter to nine … was it too early for a beer? Steady, we don’t want to have to nip to the loo like Craig Joubert, the nincompoop official from four years ago, and possibly miss some vital action.

Try, try and try again? Three times over the whitewash against Ireland - that would do it, right? Well, Scotland are a team who can score five tries away to England and still not win. They are a team seeking to become the fastest on the planet - possibly faster than a speeding bullet train from Yokohama to Tokyo. But Ireland are no slouches, No 1 in the world, and fancying themselves for the big prize here.

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ITV are bringing this tournament into our parlours, as they have done for a while now. Does it feel right yet? Does the ghost of Bill McLaren hover in a merely benign way now, no longer intimidating but simply glad the sport he loved enjoys such a grand stage?

Well, they began coverage with anchorman Craig Doyle (loved your work on the double-glazing ads, mate) going shoe-less, Japanese-style, and demanding that pundits Jim Hamilton and Paul O’Connell did the same. The thought occurred: would the players dispense with their boots, too?

Thankfully not, but the Scots looked nervous on the long, tunnelled walk to the pitch. And during Flower of Scotland they were blubbing. Big, tough guys with tears in their eyes. I was crying and I bet you were too, and then the camera-pan reached Duncan Taylor with that hammerhead hairstyle and, thankfully, we could all laugh.

But we weren’t laughing during the first half. There were three tries and they all went to the Irish. Scotland put the foot to the floor to go for a new land-speed record for the World Cup. But kicks were too long, every move seemed intended to bring about a worldy score, one pass was flung straight out of play, composure went missing and three men pounced on CJ Stander which opened up space for the first Irish strike.

To paraphrase the CJ character in the classic Reggie Perrin sitcom, Ireland didn’t get where they are today by standing back and admiring Scotland’s dangermen and Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell were targeted every time they threatened.

There had been a bit of spice in the build-up with previous Scots hassling of Ireland playmaker Johnny Sexton being recalled by Peter O’Mahony - the same O’Mahony accused of a late, no-arms tackle which ended Hogg’s last Six Nations.

Hogg and Russell seemed to emerge from their hits unscathed but Hamish Watson wasn’t so fortunate. Another character these streetwise opponents would have been keen to subdue, the fierce scrapper was flattened with a tackle which could have come from the sumo ring, with co-commentator Scott Hastings wondering if the contact had been completely legal.

Main mic duties went to Miles Harrison, one of those smooth allrounder voices which would be equally at home on a cable channel in the graveyard shift covering synchronised motocross. He has readymade phrases which can fit all sports. “Talk about route one,” he said as the thundering Irish pack built up another head of steam. Well, it was working.

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What wasn’t working was Scotland’s average try quota. “Three and a half per match,” Hastings said. Harrison liked this stat and quickly repeated it. Then Typhoon Tapah turned up and the wet ball squirted from Scottish fingers. “Scotland won’t be throwing in the towel yet,” said Harrison, “although a towel has been a very useful tool in the second half.” What a seamless link! Unfortunately Scotland couldn’t find one of their own and this was a disappointing start, no doubt about it. Time for that drink.

Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water and on Twitter @CastleWaterLtd