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Ireland overelaborate as Scotland cut to the chase

Ask any Scotland player what they like about Scott Johnson and they will all tell you one thing.

Scotland 12 Ireland 8
Scotland 12 Ireland 8

It's the clarity of the message, they say. It's simple things put over in simple language. No hokum, no mumbo jumbo, no psychobabble, no bull. Johnson gets straight to the point.

Their testimonies came to mind last night when Ireland coach Declan Kidney was asked if his side had been the architects of their own downfall. It was a simple and unambiguous question and it demanded a simple and unambiguous answer. Most likely one beginning with Y. But this is what Kidney had to say: "Emmm... I suppose when we're sitting after a four-point match after creating the number of try-scoring opportunities that we did do and getting into the field positions like we did in the first half and not taking the points then, yes, that would be.. you know, that's not... that would be one way of articulating it."

Let's cut the man some slack here. As far as offering an affirmative was concerned, he sort of got there in the end. Which is significantly more than his team had managed to do at Murrayfield as they made a dog's breakfast of expressing their ground-level superiority onto the scoreboard. The last time the Irish butchered anything this badly it came out smelling of horse.

As Kidney spoke, the official match data sheets from yesterday's game were distributed among his audience. The figures were staggering. They showed that Ireland had enjoyed 71% of the possession and 77% of the territory. They had won 106 rucks and mauls against Scotland's 29, made four clean line-breaks against Scotland's none and broken through 16 tackles compared to Scotland's four.

In other words, they had hammered Scotland. And those were the figures at the end of the game, after Scotland's mini revival in the second half. If the statistics had been drawn up at half-time they would have told an even more emphatic story of Irish domination. Scotland were so far out of things in that first half that they did not once set foot in the Irish 22.

And still Scotland won. Like I said, staggering.

Or maybe not so when you consider one vital aspect of the game. Scotland had a goal-kicker and Ireland did not. Oh, Ireland had a bloke called Paddy Jackson who had been delegated the task, but his enthusiasm for the role was not exactly obvious, probably because it was completely non-existent.

Jackson, had never previously played in an international and is not even the first-choice kicker at Ulster, but was chosen ahead of Ronan O'Gara for yesterday's game. The same Ronan O'Gara who has played in 129 Tests, scoring 1077 points along the way.

Jackson, 21, represents Ireland's future – or he will if he gets over what happened yesterday – while O'Gara, 36 next month, is from Ireland's past. But in a time of crisis, when they needed a steadying hand on the tiller, it was still a job for ROG.

After all, Jackson has some previous in this area. He was controversially chosen ahead of Ian Humphreys for Ulster's appearance in last year's Heineken Cup final, but the strategy backfired badly and he was taken off just a few minutes into the second half. Nobody would deny that he looks a decent player for his club, but in that environment he has the significant advantage of playing outside Ruan Pienaar. Most, with someone of his quality in there, would look decent too.

"His general play was very good," said Kidney defensively. "I thought he made two line breaks and I thought his kicks down he line put us in good field position. He had the courage to go for those, which is a good thing.

"The secondary job, which involves place-kicking, wouldn't have gone the way he would have liked, or any of us would have liked."

Kidney's second point may be remembered as the biggest understatement of this or any other Six Nations season. Jackson landed just one solitary kick out of four attempts, a paltry return at this level. But even that record masks the dearth of his contribution as he also turned down other chances, some of which Greig Laidlaw could have back-heeled over the bar wearing carpet slippers.

Yet, as significant as Jackson's contribution was, it fell to O'Gara, who replaced Jackson in the 64th minute, to reveal the full extent of Ireland's dearth of self-belief. Five minutes from the end, and with a four-point deficit, Ireland had a kickable penalty straight in front of the posts. O'Gara could have knocked it over with his eyes shut, but instead he kicked to the corner.

The explanation offered by captain Jamie Heaslip was that, with only five minutes left, Ireland had to go for a try. It is not so long, though, since Ireland would have backed themselves in those few remaining minutes to collect the restart, rumble back upfield, win another penalty or pop over a dropped goal. It was the Irish way. The confident way. It was O'Gara's way.

So, for the second game on the trot, Scotland owed victory to the shortcomings of the opposition fly-half. Against Italy it was the hapless Luciano Orquera; against Ireland the bootless and beliefless Paddy Jackson.

"We maybe got a bit of luck," said Scotland captain Kelly Brown. And maybe they did – but you wouldn't call it the luck of the Irish.

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