Well, no one can complain that they didn’t get their money’s worth. This was high-tempo, highly skilled, engaging and exciting; Test match rugby at its compelling best. Anyone who was worried about Ireland sticking the ball up their jerseys and driving Scotland to distraction was pleasantly surprised.
It may have been a slow burner, with most of the scoring coming after the break, but the standard of the rugby on offer was superb and the Scots played their part.
Blair Kinghorn on his first ever Test start made two offloads in the space of a few minutes that took the breath away. Never mind the accuracy – both flips found blue-clad players – marvel at the ambition.
The pace of the game was largely dictated by Scotland because they kicked long, instead of aiming for touch, and took any number of quick throw-ins.
The high tempo had the desired effect, because Ireland were blowing hard and made a number of errors, but nothing like the number that Scotland made.
Scotland lost on the road…again…but it wasn’t for a want of opportunities. They created plenty of try-scoring chances but simply couldn’t convert enough of them.
Both teams made mistakes but the Scots made more and they paid a significantly higher price for them.
Peter Horne is a smart and canny player but he had a wretched time of it yesterday afternoon in Dublin. His decision-making especially doesn’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny.
One of his clever kicks rolled into the Irish corner with pin-point accuracy and he got back brilliantly to prevent Conor Murray from scoring immediately before the break, but not everything he did was was quite as good.
Horne acts as a second five-eighth, a second stand-off outside Finn Russell, and it was his 21st minute pass that was picked off by Jacob Stockdale, who has more tries than caps.
Horne’s pass wasn’t quite aimed at full-back Stuart Hogg or at Kinghorn on the right wing, it was somewhere in between and it was read beautifully by the Irish winger.
It wasn’t Horne’s only error. A few plays later the Scotland centre was stepped by Garry Ringrose who sailed past him from a set scrum like the Scot had grown roots.
Horne has a superb rugby brain but it can only compensate so far for a lack of pace.
In the second half, when Scotland needed to score the first points to stay in touch, Horne conceded a needless breakdown penalty after ignoring referee Wayne Barnes’s advice about “hands off”.
Worse was to come. Against England, Horne messed up a four-on-one overlap with a delayed pass and yesterday in Dublin he made a sublime midfield outside break and, instead of passing to the unmarked Huw Jones, he sent out a Hail Mary to Kinghorn on the wing. The unmarked Jones would almost certainly have scored.
“Why did he pass to Kinghorn in the outside channel when he had Jones on his shoulder?” TV commentator Scott Hastings asked and that is the uncomfortable question Horne must answer.
A converted try at that point would have taken Scotland to within six points of their hosts. Horne makes too many mistakes and they cost Scotland 14 obvious points yesterday.
He wasn’t the only guilty party, only the most obvious.
On 28 minutes Horne’s midfield partner Huw Jones did the hard bit, chipping Keith Earls and collecting his own kick, before making a pig’s ear of the simplest pass possible which would have sent Hogg over the Irish line.
If the Scotland full-back felt aggrieved at that error he was almost equally guilty on 50 minutes when what might have been a scoring pass to Kinghorn sailed over the winger’s head and into touch.
When those howlers occur on a rugby pitch it has a psycholgical effect on the team involved who begin to believe that it isn’t going to be their day.
After those two flip passes in the first half Kinghorn was partly at fault for Stockdale’s second try at the death of the first half. The winger was caught looking inwards at Ringrose who he had to leave to Horne. As a result he was overcompensating when chasing Stockdale down, making it far too easy for the Irishman to step him.
At least the tall Scot got one back in the second half and he took his chance brilliantly, diving over and keeping his legs in the air after a training ground move.
Scotland were still in this game, within two converted tries, but Joe Schmidt went to the bench and Ireland slowly tightened their grip on proceedings thanks to the energy and expertise of their bench. Jordie Murphy made huge inroads in a tiring Scottish defence and Jack McGrath reminded everyone just what a handy scummager he is.
Almost the entire final quarter was played deep inside Scottish territory, with the visitors doing the lions’ share of tackling. The Scots simply couldn’t get out of their own territory and when Jones tried he was shepherded into touch by Ringrose.
Eventually one of Ireland’s super subs made the required impact, Sean Cronin scoring ten minutes from time from a driving maul that was charging towards the Scottish line, to give Ireland that all-important fourth bonus point try.
When Scotland’s forwards finally got close to the Irish line Tim Swinson reached out in an attempt to score and dropped the ball in the process.
It summed up Scotland’s afternoon – hard work spoilt by inaccuracy.