“Yokohama feels like another world,” said Gregor Townsend after Saturday’s match, referring to the next time these two nations meet in the World Cup Pool A opener in September.
The weather will certainly be different in Japan, although forecasts of a potentially occasion-ruining storm at the weekend failed to materialise. A bit of a reverse Michael Fish as conditions failed to rise above what those with many a Scottish winter under their belts would call “a bit blowy”.
The action was gale force in a breathless first half before the men in green grabbed the second half with a Hulk-like grip and took the wind out of the home team’s sails.
Behind the “world No 2 team beats world No 7 team” simplicity lies a more nuanced story. Scotland had the champions rattled at times and Townsend wasn’t playing Pollyanna when he flagged up positives and his pride in the performance.
Ultimately, however, the Irish got more things right than the Scots – something they have been doing pretty much constantly in rugby terms since the turn of the century.
After the loss in Dublin last year Townsend said Scotland were “three or four years behind” Ireland, which he later clarified didn’t mean he believed it would take that long to catch up sufficiently to beat them.
It is now 223 days until the showdown in the land of the rising sun but Townsend said: “I was speaking to [Ireland assistant coach] Andy Farrell before the game and we both said Yokohama feels like another world.
“We’ve got a pre-season, a World Cup training camp to get through, it’s the first game of the World Cup so how well you do in your camp, and how well you get your plays in place in those [World Cup warm-up] friendlies will have more relevance than this game.”
Before all that there is still more than half of the Six Nations to go which, following Saturday’s loss, can’t help but look a tad foreboding. Trips to Paris and Twickenham where previous successes lurk in the last century sandwich a home clash with a Welsh team which, whatever happens in round three, should have a sniff of a shot at the title after winning their first two games.
Scotland played a full part in as entertaining a half of Test rugby you’re likely to see on Saturday. It may not have been peak quality, though some of it was, as mistakes on both sides brought things alive and there was an unfortunate loss of a star participant from either side as Stuart Hogg and Johnny Sexton left early because of injury.
Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw opened the scoring with the first three of eight points that now leaves him third, just one behind second-placed Gavin Hastings, in the all-time list headed by Chris Paterson.
An unfortunate mix up between Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland saw Conor Murray pounce for a gifted score, though he failed to re-gift a touchdown closer to the posts to his half-back partner Sexton, who shanked the conversion.
Sexton’s deft pass drew a crushing hit from Scotland prop Allan Dell but released Jacob Stockdale under the posts moments after Hogg had been cleaned out by Peter O’Mahony after a chip ahead, to the disinterest of French referee Romain Poite, who can probably consider himself off Laidlaw’s Christmas card list.
The next present came from Sexton’s replacement Joey Carbery, whose pass was picked off by Finn Russell. The Scotland stand-off didn’t quite have the gas to burn off the covering Irish wing Keith Earls but he showed more of that burgeoning composure and maturity with a sublime pop off the floor for Sam Johnson to notch his first Test try on his second appearance.
In hindsight, the match turned on the closing moments of the first half as a long encampment on the Irish line, one phase of which milked a penalty which expired to advantage over, was repelled by heroic Irish defence.
Scotland couldn’t lift it after the break, their setpiece faltered, as Ireland solidified and Earls claimed the clinching try.
“It’s really about our execution. If we get our setpiece play into the game then you can build so many things off it,” said Townsend. “The effort the players put in was outstanding, but the frustration is we didn’t keep putting them under pressure because we couldn’t get to those multi-phase facets of the game that we did in the first half.”
Next Scotland face another huge physical test against France, who boast an even bigger if perhaps not as cohesive pack as Ireland’s. “I think our gameplan is based on what we want to do,” said Townsend. “And that was the pleasing aspect [from Saturday], we were up against a team that are fit, but we were able to play the way we wanted to play in attack and in the first half that brought rewards.
“Whether against France we have to be different, they jackal a lot more in contact, but we’re not going to change the way we play the game.”
Amidst the disappointment of defeat there was a ray of elation in the Scotland camp as D’arcy Rae became the country’s 1,103rd capped internationalist. The 24-year-old Glasgow tighthead prop, pictured left, replaced Simon Berghan in the 69th minute.
“It’s a special day, even though we lost,” said the Ayrshireman. “A dream come true, especially for my family. There were 14 of us at the game, a fair old contingent from Troon!”
Tradition dictates that debutants must regale the rest of the squad in song but Rae added: “I’m not a good singer. I might do Incy Wincy Spider.”