SCOTLAND captain Greig Laidlaw was in no doubt what cost his team the game against Ireland yesterday – their performance in the second half.
After a hectic and exhausting first 40 minutes ended with the visitors just 12-10 ahead, both teams’ energy levels dipped after the break.
But, crucially, Ireland had the possession and the nous to stretch their lead, and Laidlaw admitted that, by comparison, Scotland had conceded cheap scores while finding it harder to score themselves.
“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 scrum-half said. “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.
“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.”
Conceding three tries was as big a problem in the end for Scotland as the inability to score more than one, and Laidlaw accepted there had been moments when his team had suffered lapses of concentration or of defensive organisation.
“Losing any try is frustrating,” he continued. “But credit to Ireland, because they got opportunities and they scored tries.
“We need to make sure we don’t switch off and have any of those soft moments against a quality team. We knew from the way we switched off towards the end against Italy last week that you just can’t do that in this competition. The soft tries cost us badly.
“Both [the soft tries and not taking their chances] were equally frustrating. We just need to be patient when we’re in those [attacking] areas and either pick up a penalty or play under penalty advantage.
“The softness of a couple of the tries was clearly disappointing, because the effort from the boys was unbelievable and the energy we showed for large parts in defence was outstanding.
“You could see us coming off the line and putting Ireland under pressure and causing turnovers – against a team who traditionally don’t turn over the ball. Ireland were clinical and took their chances, so you have to tip your hat to them.”
Gregor Townsend agreed with his captain’s analysis of the game, particularly the decline in energy after the break.
But the head coach, whose responsibilities include masterminding the attack, also criticised himself for the team’s inability to finish off some of their moves.
“We probably should have scored one try more, and I’m frustrated that we gifted them a try, but I’m very happy with the way that we played in the first half,” he said. “Second half, the execution of our set-piece plays to get us into our game and to put more pressure on Ireland just didn’t happen.
“I’m so proud of the players, with the way they played and the effort they put in. 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.”
There is now a fallow week in the Six Nations before Scotland begin to plan for the trip to France, and it may be a while before they learn if Stuart Hogg and Ryan Wilson will be able to be involved in Paris.
Hogg had to go off with a shoulder injury in the first half after being sandwiched between two defenders, and back-row forward Wilson did not reappear for the second half after sustaining a knee injury.
“He’s sore, very sore,” Townsend said of the full-back. “He wanted to stay on but his shoulder was not right. We’ll see what will happen over the next few days.
“It was disappointing: 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.”