Scotland coach Scott Johnson says that one of his tasks is to find the positives in his side’s performances, even when they are decisively defeated.
And Johnson is adamant that Scotland’s curve remains upward, even though their RBS Six Nations campaign got off to a disappointing start at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Scotland enjoyed plenty of possession against a far from convincing Irish side but never looked like transforming that into scores, and in the end were well beaten.
“It is my job to see a silver-lining,” said Johnson, following the three tries to nil loss. “There is inexperience in our backline, they are still growing as lads. The irony is, and they don’t understand it, they are doing the hard part quite easily, they are putting themselves in position, they are making half-breaks and they are doing the hard bit quite well.
“It’s the finishing off. You get that bit of naivety and then you are up against some wily customers, who have been around the block. We are where we are in some positions, but that’s the start of careers and I would rather be in the position of having the talent to create the difficult bit than trying to create that, and I think we showed that we showed enough with those inexperienced players to compete at this level.”
Not all of the large contingent of travelling supporters will share such optimism, however.
Test rugby is all about turning possession into scores and Scotland just did not do that in the opening half when they had a chance to win the game.
That dominance came despite a creaking scrum and far from convincing line-out despite Ireland losing skipper Paul O’Connell to a chest infection on the morning of the game.
Scotland knew they needed to lay down an early marker if they were to disrupt the Irish but a possession statistic of 65-35 per cent in their favour after 13 minutes and a scoreline of 3-0 to Ireland told its own story.
Greig Laidlaw missed the opportunity to give Scotland an early boost when he hit the left post with a penalty from 41 metres. The wastage did not end there and the loss of a line-out deep inside Irish territory led to six minutes of intense pressure at the other end which culminated in Jonathan Sexton getting Ireland off the mark with a penalty from 35 metres after 13 minutes.
Laidlaw cancelled that five minutes later with a good effort from 38 metres after Devin Toner was penalised.
Scotland could not match their ambition when Laidlaw went to touch from 42 metres on the right as yet again the ball was turned over as Ireland’s superiority at the breakdown once more proved to be decisive and clinical.
Dave Denton came closest to getting a Scottish try when it took the combined effort of Dave Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and Toner to finally bundle him into touch in the right corner.
But that was just a brief threat from Scotland and the game started to slip away from them as the interval approached, with the visitors’ cause not helped when Sean Maitland went off concussed after an aerial collision with Dave Kearney after 32 minutes.
Ireland took control of the game with a superb break from deep inside his own half by Sexton which caught Scotland flat-footed and while Maitland’s replacement Max Evans did superbly to edge Heaslip into touch as he lunged to touchdown in the left corner, Ireland maintained the pressure.
Scotland just could not clear their line and Ireland went wide and created an overlap with Andrew Trimble going in at the right corner just on the stroke of half-time to make it 11-3 at the break.
It was a blow which Scotland never recovered from and while Laidlaw punished a Toner indiscretion with a penalty three minutes after the restart, Scotland just faded away after that.
Another lost scrum led to Ireland pulling away with Heaslip driving over from a line-out on the left, with Sexton adding the points to make it 18-6 after 47 minutes.
Scotland needed precision in their game if they were to stand any chance of getting back into contention but the lethargy which swept into their display was emphasised by some aimless kicking from the hand by Laidlaw and Duncan Taylor.
In contrast, Ireland continued to improve and while Scotland might have felt they had a stronger bench, the Irish replacements, despite four of them making their Six Nations debuts, had a more telling impact after both sides slotted the changes.
In fairness, the Scottish defence remained resolute and Duncan Weir executed an excellent tackle to deny a rampaging Cian Healy on the hour mark.
But the pressure inevitably yielded another Irish try with the impressive Rob Kearney crowning his 50th international appearance nine minutes from time when he held off the challenge of Ryan Wilson to score.
Stuart Hogg tried to ignite Scotland and was his side’s top carrier but most of it was from deep and did little to threaten an Irish defence which will scarcely have an easier outing this season.
The focus now for Scotland will be to regroup for the visit of England to Murrayfield on Saturday. Both sides may have lost their opening games but England will find comfort from an impressive display against France in Paris and will feel they were robbed.
Scotland left Dublin without such solace. They were lucky not to be beaten by more and no amount of sugar-coating by Johnson will alter that.
Ireland: Tries: A Trimble, J Heaslip, R Kearney. Cons: J Sexton (2). Pens: J Sexton (3).
Scotland: Pens: G Laidlaw (2)
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, B O’Driscoll (F McFadden 72), L Marshall, D Kearney; J Sexton (P Jackson 72, C Murray (I Boss 72); C Healy (J McGrath 64), R Best (S Cronin 66), M Ross (M Moore 63); D Toner (I Henderson 74), D Tuohy; P O’Mahony (T O’Donnell 66), C Henry, J Heaslip.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland (M Evans 32), A Dunbar, D Taylor (M Scott 65), S Lamont; D Weir, G Laidlaw (C Cusiter 74); R Grant (A Dickinson 53), R Ford (P Macarthur 68), M Low (G Cross 65); T Swinson, J Hamilton (R Gray 57); R Wilson, K Brown (J Beattie 57), D Denton.
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).