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No need for luck as Scots fail miserably

So much for the luck of the Irish.

Duncan Weir, left, is challenged by Conor Murray during Scotland's limp defeat to Ireland yesterday. Picture: SNS
Duncan Weir, left, is challenged by Conor Murray during Scotland's limp defeat to Ireland yesterday. Picture: SNS

They were already without Sean O'Brien, they lost Paul O'Connell to a chest infection on the morning of the match, and Brian O'Driscoll strolled through, barely breaking sweat. When you can win as easily as this without the three most illustrious apostrophes in world rugby firing, luck has nothing to do with it.

No, this result was a matter of skill, precision, preparation and aggression. It was a tribute to Joe Schmidt, coaching them in his first ever Six Nations, that they played at a level of technical proficiency that was miles above anything Scotland could produce. "Schmidt is known to be a perfectionist," said the former Ireland lock Neil Francis ahead of yesterday's game. "If he was married to Charlize Theron he would expect her to cook as well."

And yet, Scotland made it alarmingly easy for Ireland to run up their highest winning margin in the fixture for nine years. The Scots were stroppy and competitive in the first half, but even then the cracks in their performance were beginning to appear, especially in a misfiring lineout. There was always a feeling that a rush of confidence would propel Ireland over the horizon - which is exactly what happened in the end.

For that they could thank fortuitous timing; their first try, collected just before half-time, was a massive fillip at the game's most critical moment. More, though, they could be grateful to their back row, who played with astonishing energy and intent. They blasted Scotland off the ball and dynamited Scotland's chance of victory in the way they took a grip of the game in the third quarter. To watch them clean up the loose ball on the floor would certainly dissuade you from dropping any loose change in their vicinity.

Scotland, though, dropped more than that. Ireland were not flawless, but at the finish it was hard to recall a single significant Irish error. But it was all too easy to recall those fluffed Scottish lineouts, a critical Scottish scrum when the ball popped out on the Irish side, a kick from Duncan Taylor that soared straight into touch and all those moments when Scots carried the ball into a tackle and simply turned the thing over.

Scotland did suffer one rotten stroke of bad luck, just after the half-hour mark, when they lost Sean Maitland, the victim of what looked a potentially serious ankle injury.

They plugged that gap with solid experience in the shape of Max Evans, but a sparkle was lost. Until his departure, Maitland had looked dangerous, and it was clear that the Irish were concerned by the threat he posed down the right wing.

At least Evans wasted little time in making a significant contribution, nudging Jamie Heaslip, who had taken over the captaincy duties from O'Connell, into touch as he drove in for a try in the left corner late in the first half. But Scotland never really cleared their lines from then on, and, after a couple of set-pieces, deep in their 22, they coughed up the first try.

All too softly, too. They over-committed numbers to a couple of breakdowns in the middle of the pitch, and when the ball was moved out they were desperately understaffed in defence. And Ireland knew it. Luke Matthews, Jonny Sexton and Rob Kearney put pace on the ball as they shipped it to the right side, and Andrew Trimble had an easy run-in for the score.

It was a psychological blow from which the Scots never recovered. In fairness, it took a little while for the Irish momentum to gather, and Laidaw even managed to nudge off some of the deficit with a 43rd-minute penalty, but the storm was certainly brewing. As the Scots chased the game, Ireland mopped up their efforts with ease. The hosts played with assurance, confident that chances would come. Confident, even, that Scotland would present them.

Which is exactly what happened barely four minutes after Laidlaw's kick. Scotland had a scrum near their own 22 from which they should have been able to clear their lines, but they failed to secure the possession. The ball squirted out on the Irish side and suddenly the pressure was back on. The Scots gave up a penalty near their left touchline, and Ireland decided to strike.

Sexton clipped the ball out near the corner flag, the forwards resecured at the lineout, and one ferocious drive later they had their second try, Heaslip touching down. It was a textbook pressure play, beautifully executed at a standard that Scotland could never reach.

The Irish players and management had praised the quality of the Sottish bench, but the raft of replacements who arrived during the final quarter made little noticeable difference. Johnnie Beattie added some energy and creativity to the pack, but that was about it.

In any case, the last word was always likely to belong to the Irish. It was duly delivered by Rob Kearney, who finished off an extended, multiple-phase sequence of play, with a crafty dart for the line. Ally Dickinson was perhaps culpable in failing to close him down, and Ryan Wilson might have got a better hold on Kearney as he powered through, but it would be wrong to focus on those two individuals.

Scotland's problems at the moment go far deeper than that.

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