It was my fault, said Gregor Townsend, who put his hand up for yesterday’s loss to Ireland. The Scots looked poised at half-time to land further fire and brimstone on Joe Schmidt’s head, only to fall away badly after the break.
“I’m so proud of the players, with the way they played and the effort they put in,” said Townsend, pictured, after the match. “A game of rugby is a lot of things; it’s the defence battle, the contact battle, the kicking game and the pressure we put on Ireland’s kicks and what we do with kick-return ball.
“I thought we won those battles and our contact work against a very good defence who will look to hold you up in the tackle, rip the ball or compete the ball, was outstanding.
“Just that final piece, the execution off set-piece, which has been really good, that fell off the jigsaw today and that’s my fault. I’m the attack coach and we weren’t able to get those two or three phases, either to get in behind the defence or set up our attack shape, which was working well in the first half.”
If the execution of set piece was poor, the set piece itself was creaking like a Hammer horror film. The scrum struggled after the front row subs joined the fray and three lineout throws went astray; enough turnover possession to negate all of Jamie Ritchie’s Herculean efforts at the breakdown.
Both teams lost key personnel in contentious circumstances, although Schmidt was quick to correct himself after he claimed that Johnny Sexton’s head knock was the result of a stamp. So it was, said the coach, but the guilty boot was on the end of an Irish foot.
Townsend refused to make a meal of it but Stuart Hogg’s departure may yet attract the attention of the citing officer after he was caught by Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony.
“It was disappointing,” said Townsend of his full-back’s early exit. “He chipped ahead and got sandwiched between two players. These things happen quickly but there was a collision there that forced him to fly over and land on the point of his shoulder. It was a big moment in the game. We conceded the try a minute after that and lost one of our best players.”
The Scots probably needed to make better use of the pressure they exerted during that long siege immediately before half-time. The Scots kept knocking at Ireland’s door without showing any sign of knowing how to pick the lock. It seemed a key moment to the scribblers in the press box but Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw was not convinced.
“No, not at all,” he replied when asked if the failure to score before the break had knocked the stuffing out of the Scots.
“We were really confident at half-time. We felt like we were really on top of Ireland and causing them problems with our attack. We just couldn’t convert that into the second half and I think that’s what cost us the game in the end.
“We were in a good position at half-time but our performance in the second half cost us the game through some of the errors.”
The Guinness Six Nations produces reams of statistics but it doesn’t think to add errors into the mix, which may spare a few Scottish blushes this morning. We don’t know the numbers but it’s safe to say that the Scots made far too many mistakes.
“We were frustrated after the game,” Laidlaw added. “We felt like we made a few errors in the second half, whether that be launching from line-outs and just sort of releasing the pressure valve.
“We couldn’t really build any pressure in the second half because we just kept turning over possession. We gave Ireland a set-piece and they were able to exit their half. It’s always difficult when you’re trying to score from deeper.”