While the game could have been won more comfortably if Scotland had been able extend their first half performance in the second period, it was never going to be easy to prevent Ireland bringing their physicality to bear at some stage. In some ways the Scots will have learnt more about themselves in the way they had to go out and essentially win the match again. Here’s On Top Of The Moon’s guide to the key contributors to what was just Scotland’s third victory over one of the other Home Nations in the last 9 years.
Stuart Hogg – 8
He was a threat all throughout the first half but found it a little more difficult to get into the game when Scottland’s error count increased and Ireland starved them of territory and possession.
Sean Maitland – 7
Just a very smart player who consistently makes the right decisions. Won territory for Scotland with some great kick-chasing but it was his crucial interventions in defence that really stood out.
Huw Jones – 6
Unsurprisingly he looked like a man who hadn’t played since November but he still made some big contributions in attack and defence, in particular timing his pass beautifully for Stuart Hogg’s second try.
Alex Dunbar – 7
Another huge physical effort as he faced an endless parade of massive Irish carriers running down his channel. Scotland need to get him more involved though – he only touched the ball 4 times…
Tommy Seymour – 7
Uncharacteristically lost a couple of high balls but when Scotland were in their pomp he was able to come looking for work the way he loves to. Took his lucky number 11 jersey and swapped with Maitland, moving to the right wing – a tactical choice from Vern Cotter?
Finn Russell – 7
His passing was outstanding and one of the keys to unlocking the Irish defence. Maybe needs to rethink the little grubber through a packed midfield though – how many times have those come bouncing back the wrong way and caused chaos?
Greig Laidlaw – 8
For almost 40 minutes he was crisp and precise in everything he did before a wobble in the lead up to half-time saw him slowing the ball in the Irish 22 when Scotland had the chance to go for the jugular and put themselves in total control with a fourth try. The second half then saw the Scots working with slow ball in their own half, playing right into the hands of the Irish defence and it nearly cost the home side the game. He was a major factor in the way things turned around for the last 10 minutes when Scotland took almost complete control.
Allan Dell – 6
After early struggles Scotland neutered the Irish advantage at scrum time…by avoiding them wherever possible – there was only 1 in the 2nd half! Allan was not among the ball carrying options (at all) but put in a big shift defensively for 55 minutes.
Very unfortunate to pick up the blood injury that would end his match when he had only managed 21 minutes of game time.
Zander Fagerson – 7
Seemed to be coping slightly better with McGrath than Allan Dell was with Furlong (although to be fair at least McGrath was scrummaging almost straight!) but he’ll still be looking to improve in this area. His work in the loose though was outstanding – and remained so throughout the entire 80 minutes he played.
Richie Gray – 7
This was the real 50 shades of Gray – between them Richie and Jonny combined to make 50 tackles against Ireland. Big bro was also Scotland’s top man at the lineout, pouching half of their catches and disrupting the Irish setpiece to boot.
Jonny Gray – 8
The machine masquerading as a human being that is Jonny Gray was at it again on Saturday, setting a new personal best of 27 tackles (although still 4 short of Luke Charteris’ record for a 6 Nations game). Also threw in being Scotland’s top carrier as well in a study of perpetual motion.
Ryan Wilson – 7
Continued his strong Glasgow form and showed his adaptability – carrying in close and playing out wide; nailing Ireland’s big runners and getting over the ball (he had a perfectly good turnover chalked off by M. Poite). Whatever Scotland need to balance the back row he will deliver it.
Hamish Watson – 8
The yards he makes after initially being tackled are just insane given he is the smallest man in the Scotland pack. Ireland’s efficiency at the breakdown restricted his jackalling opportunities but he was always snapping around the ball, making life difficult.
Josh Strauss – 6
Something odd seemed to happen to the Scottish pack’s attacking structures on Saturday. Despite being the side’s best chance of getting over the gainline, especially off slow ball, big Josh only carried the ball 6 times before being replaced (by contrast his opposite number, Heaslip had 21 runs). An issue for the player or the organisation of the team?
Ross Ford – 7 Carried on his form from the Georgia game with some big carries and an immense defensive effort (19 out 0f 20 tackles made). Mr. 6 out of 10 is going above and beyond now there is some serious competition for his place!
Gordon Reid – didn’t face a single scrum but got through a pile of tackling in his 25 minutes. Was the key man in winning the first of 4 Scotland penalties in the last 10 minutes and joined Ryan Wilson in tackling Stander when the Munster man knocked on Ireland’s last possession in the Scotland half.
Simon Berghan – not used. This could be an issue – surely Vern Cotter cannot expect the youngest player in the Championship to play 5 x 80 minute matches at this level?
Tim Swinson – threw himself into breakdown duties as Scotland finally stemmed the Irish tide and managed to protect their own ball to close out the game.
John Barclay – followed on from Watson by carrying hard and harassing the Irish attack. A real luxury for Scotland to have that kind of quality on the bench.
Ali Price – not used.
Duncan Weir – nice wee cameo featured a kick that couldn’t have worked any better if the wee man had run up and placed it himself!
Mark Bennett – didn’t see much ball but turned over one Irish possession and took a smart option to pin Ireland down in their own 22 late on.
The ‘Official’ On Top Of The Moon Scot of the match was…Jonny Gray – for the freakish level of his performance. Quite simply he was directly involved in more of the play than anybody else. Special mention too for the other forwards who played the full 80 minutes – Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray and Ryan Wilson. Withstanding the immense physical battering meted out by a massive Irish pack and still having the energy to contribute to efficiently closing out the game was quite remarkable. Stuart Hogg was the undoubted standout among the backs but the shape of the game moved away from him in the second half.
Picture courtesy of Adrian Henry for Rugby People.