A game for the purists this was not. Scotland vs Ireland at Murrayfield was not a showcase of quick, delicate, easy-on-the-eye rugby – rather it was an ugly, nervy battle. A cocktail of handling errors and poor decision making with a smattering of naughty hits for good measure. This was a war. But if you’re going to war, it’s always handy to bring your heavy artillery.
‘The Tullow Tank’ Sean O’Brien has seen more of the treatment table than the rugby pitch in the last few years and Irish rugby is poorer for it. To see The Tank steamrolling over opposition players again was a joy to behold.
It’s been close to two years since O’Brien made a Six Nations appearance for Ireland, but he didn’t miss a beat in the win in Edinburgh. O’Brien made more carries than any other Irish player (16) whilst chewing up more metres than any other member of the pack. His defensive work was also impeccable as he chalked up 13 bruising tackles in a dominant performance.
The Tank showed no signs of rust and if he can stay injury-free will be a crucial part of Joe Schmidt’s plans in Japan, despite an impending move to London Irish. News that obviously went down well with the exiled Simon Zebo – whose deleted tweet was ironically some of the fastest handiwork on display from an Irish rugby player this weekend.
We can’t really move on from the good column without mentioning Keith Earls who bounced back from some particularly special treatment last weekend with a tireless performance and a score. Finally, Jacob Stockdale never fails to catch the eye. His turn of foot to score Ireland’s second try was frightening and no one in an Irish jersey beat as many defenders as the Ulsterman on Saturday.
It’s hard to point out too much ‘bad’ in a match Ireland needed to win, and duly did so, but we’ve committed to this column now and you’ve read this far so we’ll plough on regardless.
Scotland hadn’t lost to a Six Nations side at Murrayfield for over three years, and Ireland were coming off the back of the shock of being dismantled by England in Dublin. Getting out of dodge with a nine-point win is obviously good, but for the sake of this column the performance was not so…
Ireland just about deserved the win, but it’s a case of what could have been for the Scots who were certainly complicit in their own demise. Ireland were nervous and at times uncharacteristically ill-disciplined, whilst their box-kicking game has noticably dropped a level. The Scots arguably had the better first half and spurned several kickable penalties before the game slipped away from them and Ireland’s defence dug deep.
A win is a win, but there was a lot to feel uneasy about for Schmidt’s men, especially on a day when the refereeing went in their favour at several key moments.
Everyone loves a bone-crunching rugby tackle. That’s why there are many, many YouTube montages of them set to some terrible trance tracks. In fact, on a lazy Sunday afternoon there’s little better than putting your feet up with a brew and enjoying supercuts of huge, burly, grown men attempting to atomise each other in with nothing but their shoulders.
However, while that’s all fun and games most of the time, some of the decidedly late hits in Saturday’s match were not so easy to watch.
Johnny Sexton lasted just 23 minutes after a kick to the head and some bruising hits from Jonny Gray, Allan Dell and Ryan Wilson. That trio of men weigh in at a combined 336kg, which Google informs me is marginally more than the average black bear. Unsurprisingly, Sexton failed a Head Injury Assessment, but the good news is he’s likely to be fit for Italy all going well.
The Scots got a bit of the action as well. Rob Kearney was very lucky to escape censure for steaming into Tommy Seymour shoulder first, whilst Peter O’Mahony’s off the ball tackle was somehow missed by the French referee, but certainly not by Hogg who left the game early with a shoulder knack.
Hogg thankfully stuck around on the touchline for our amusement though, leathering a quite magnificent hole in the advertising hoardings as his teammates bungled a try opportunity just before the interval.
This being rugby, it no doubt caused a swarm of keyboard warriors and bumbling old men in pubs to wither ‘It’s not in the spirit of the sport’, which is always fun. I have it on good authority that blootering advertising hoardings is always classic. Just ask any Newcastle United fan about Temuri Ketsbaia. They’ll mention nothing of his wildly underwhelming 3 years at the club yet rave about that time he went all Bruce Lee after scoring.
More of that next week please.
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