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Ireland put All Blacks on notice for quarter-final with ruthless rout of Scotland

Ireland 36 – Scotland 14

Ireland cruised into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday night with a 36-14 win over Scotland, sending Gregor Townsend’s side out of the competition with a whimper and setting up an enthralling quarter-final with New Zealand.

Andy Farrell’s world No 1 side looked every bit the part, tearing apart the Scottish defence efficiently in the opposition 22 and blunting their attacks for large portions of the game thanks to excellent breakdown work and solid defensive organisation.

Two tries in the 64th and 65th minutes offered the Scots a lifeline, but the Irish held on with an impressive show of mental resilience.

Ireland merciless and efficient

Caelan Doris is the purring engine of a formidable Irish back-row (Picture: Getty)
Caelan Doris is the purring engine of a formidable Irish back-row (Picture: Getty)

Ireland kicked proceedings off with a simple wraparound move. Johnny Sexton lurked behind a pod and went wide, pulling it back for Garry Ringrose on the loop around him. A simple mismatch for pace with Grant Gilchrist and he was through, popping it to Mack Hansen who then drew in a helpless Blair Kinghorn – no slouch himself – to feed James Lowe for the first Irish try of the match.

It was a training ground backs move, but the tantalising thing about this Ireland side is the brutal efficiency of it. No wonder masses are flying out to Paris to see them.

It’s not particularly showy, but it’s executed with pace and precision that international defences cannot live with. That said, Jack Crowley’s little dink to Ringrose was pretty box-office.

Part of the reason the Scottish running game attacks weren’t quite incisive enough is because Ireland have become world-class at soaking up time in defence.

Their back row are the absolute masters of counter-rucking, slowing down opposition possession and just somehow being annoyingly in the way all the time without conceding a penalty.

It was notable that Scotland’s brightest moments came late, when the biggest legs feel heaviest.

But in general, the Irish ball is quick and opposition ball is slow – which means they carve teams open quickly and are very hard to beat. Don’t jinx it, but that’s how you win a World Cup.

Scotland go out with a whimper

Finn Russell was at a loss for options, stifled by a strong Irish defence (Picture: Getty)
Finn Russell was at a loss for options, stifled by a strong Irish defence (Picture: Getty)

There were moments of quality from Scotland, but they are hard to cling to when the defence looked so easy to pick apart and the attack looked so blunt for so long. Their scrum remains up there with the best in the world, but their line-out isn’t, and the attack only fleetingly sparks into life.

The gap Ireland have bridged on their journey to the top of the game is the current problem for Townsend’s side – crucial moments, and making pressure count.

They are often undone by being a half-step too ponderous into a ruck, just a shoulder shrug from a try, and – to be fair – a toe in touch not picked up by officials. Oh, and a fairly silly sin bin for Ollie Smith for a needless trip.

There is only so long you can bang at the door of an opposition tryline before you get splinters, and Scotland have a habit of coming away from the 22 without points.

Finn Russell is a magnificent fly-half – who on occasion it feels tries to force the game to his side a bit too much.

Some kicks are a thing of beauty, others you can see he’s pushing the option when it’s not on just to ask questions of Ireland, because a certain number of phases have elapsed. The problem is the Irish backfield is very organised indeed, and Scotland lost these exchanges needlessly.

But what is Russell to do when his players could not get around the Irish frontline defence? About half an hour into the first half, he orchestrated a timely move which could have tested the Irish defence, only having passed to his only option far too deep behind him and running far too slow to hit the space he’d just engineered. He then threw his arms wide to say “what can I do with this?!”

Two phases later, Scotland were turned over. You can see why he feels he has to force a breakthrough.

But this night is Ireland’s, and it is promising. They are at the pinnacle of the game at present, a side that will have little trepidation about drawing the All Blacks in a quarter-final.

At the moment, that side has more chinks in the armour and less pedigree than Farrell’s. Maybe it is Ireland’s year.

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