Two steps forward, three steps back as Scotland saved their worst till last. The Scots were put to the sword by an Irish team missing one third of their starting XV to injury. It was, we were told, a team in transition so heaven help us when Ireland finally arrive.
The Scots were outplayed right across the park, not helped by earning two yellow cards, one in each half, when Ireland filled their boots, scoring three of their four tries while the Scots were short-handed.
Matters improved for the visitors in the second 40, presumably Vern Cotter’s half-time team talk employed words of one syllable and plenty of them, but although the visitors added two tries the Scots never seriously threatened Ireland’s lead.
When Ireland got hold of the ball they proved extremely reluctant to give it up again and the Scots spent long stretches of the first half in desperate defence. Their discipline was appalling, with eight first-half penalties, and even the Scotland set scrum conceded one penalty and one strike against the head.
Ireland’s game plan saw them go to the air early and often, and the Scots failed miserably to cope with the bombs raining down on them, knocking on with dull predictability. Late in the first half, Keith Earls scored from the ploy.
The Scots were guilty of all the old problems, poor defence of the driving maul, and a few new ones, getting bullied in the contact area where Irish flanker Tommy O’Donnell had a field day. Josh Strauss turned the tables in the final 30 minutes which only begged the question as to why the South African hadn’t started.
Scotland started as they meant to go on... badly. Stand-off Duncan Weir picked out Ireland’s Devin Toner with his kick off, the tallest man on the field.
Tim Visser allowed an Irish kick to bounce into touch when he could have caught it, before the winger spilled a high ball under pressure. Ryan Wilson fumbled one with no exonerating circumstances. The match was 12 minutes old before Scotland launched an attack and Ireland were already 6-0 ahead.
Scotland did get three points on the board through a Greig Laidlaw penalty after 15 minutes when Mike Ross was pinged, but, in the very next play, Richie Gray sealed off a ruck and Jonathan Sexton banged over his third penalty. Scotland were committing rugby suicide.
A moment of pure brilliance from Stuart Hogg briefly stemmed the green tide. Sexton kicked, the Scottish full-back collected inside his own half and looked to be crabbing sideways across the field until he spotted two front row forwards side by side. Hogg darted in between Mike Ross and Rory Best and showed everyone a clean pair of heels to the line.
It proved the briefest of interludes as normal service was quickly resumed. Ireland went on the attack again, Scotland fell off tackles again. Sexton knocked a couple of kickable penalties into the corner and John Barclay was yellow carded as referee Pascal Gauzere lost what little patience he had left. Ireland scored two tries while he was off the field.
CJ Stander earned the first after the South African flanker dived clean over the breakdown, American Football style, to touch down and Earls grabbed the second when Tommy Seymour and Hogg both went for the same Sexton kick and ran into each other in with perfect comic timing. Laidlaw kicked his second penalty on the stoke of half time and Ireland could scarcely believe they were only 21-13 up.
Six minutes after the break they weren’t. Conor Murray scoring from short range after several driving mauls. The Scots were now chasing the game and throwing the ball about with reckless abandon. It brought a try for Richie Gray who walked under the Irish posts unopposed after Stuart McInally had been held up in the corner.
The momentum briefly seemed to swing behind the Scots but any slim hopes of snatching an unlikely win went west when Alex Dunbar was carded for a dangerous roll on Sexton on 66 minutes and Toner took full advantage by diving between the Scottish sticks for Ireland’s fourth try, at which point it all kicked off. Something caused a lot of angry pushing and gesticulating but nothing much else.
Tempers remained frayed for the final ten minutes which Scotland bossed. Two penalties went to the corner, the third was tapped and eventually Dunbar was over in the right hand corner three minutes from time. Andrew Trimble was sent to the sidelines, only this card for the home team proved irrelevant with the Scots fighting another losing battle, this one with the clock.