Kearney was my man of the match
By Daniel Pitcher
One game down and four more to come. I reckon there was a collective sigh of relief around the country when the final whistle went on Ireland's victory over Scotland at the Aviva on Sunday.
So what are the negatives and positives from Ireland's first win of the Six Nations?
We won by 22 points, what more do you want? How about a consistent 80-minute performance.
Sadly after all that was said about Brian O'Driscoll ready to "empty the tanks" or Conor Murray wanting to put the disappointment of last November behind them, there was very little evidence of the emotional backlash we saw a week after we had our backsides handed to us by Australia.
Seeing Nigel Owens blow the final whistle in the All Blacks game hurt, and nothing focuses the mind quite like a hanging but just how focused were Ireland on Sunday?
True, Ireland were without the services of Paul O'Connell, Gordon D'Arcy, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and even Sean O'Brien; however something Ireland are always credited for is their strength in depth and the starting 15 picked by Joe Schmidt had the arsenal to wallop Scotland.
I sat there in the Aviva Stadium right behind the television broadcasters and was constantly able to have a check on posession and ball carrying stats. What I found was that Ireland had not bettered their counterparts on any of them.
The first 20 minutes were a complete bore zone and that was reflected by the shockingly bad atmosphere around the stadium from right before the anthems to minute 80 and beyond.
The IRFU in their wisdom had invited a choir group to assist in the singing of the anthems and watching them rehearse, it sounded like it might have worked.
However, the men in the red coats were barely even noticed, nor was the presence of 49,000 Irish supporters, in fact the game could have taken place at an empty Donnybrook and a neutral would not have noticed.
It was Scotland who looked the better team for much of the first half, which says something about how poor Ireland were. Just two minutes out from half-time Ireland had only managed to grind out a 6-3 lead.
Signs of life?
However, Johnny Sexton made a great break from well inside his own half and linked up with Jamie Heaslip, who looked to have scored in the corner had he not put a toe in touch before grounding the ball.
The foot in touch gave Scotland a lineout five metres from their own line, which they subsequently lost - hat tip to Ulster's Dan Tuohy for his part there.
Tuohy, deputising for Paul O'Connell who withdrew from the game before kick off with a chest infection, wasn't the worst player on the pitch at all, in fact he was actually impressive under all the pressure he was under and the size of the boots he had to fill.
The IRFU say that Paul will be available for the visit of Wales to the Aviva and frustratingly for Tuohy, he may only see game time possibly in the last 10 to 15 minutes as a substitute.
At long last…
Having not put together enough decent plays, something clicked and with good field position, Ireland found space and Andrew Trimble went in for what was a relatively easy try with some really great handling, to give Ireland an 11-3 lead at half-time.
Scotland managed a penalty goal from Greig Laidlaw early in the second half to close the gap to five points but that was to be the end of their scoring, even though for large parts of the second half they still fancied nicking the game.
Still the Scots found themselves with the bigger share of possession and were probing deep into the heart of the Irish defence.
It wasn't as if Ireland didn't show any promise, they did and great ability to turn over ball gave them more attacking platforms resulting in Jamie Heaslip rolling over the line from a driving maul.
Ireland then seemed to switch off again as did the volume button in the Aviva and it wasn't until the last ten minutes that Rob Kearney broke through some feeble Scottish defence and scored what was for me, the try of the game.
Kearney in my view was the best player on the pitch and I think he was very hard done by when Tony Ward gave the man of the match award to Heaslip. I questioned that decision my entire way home.
I wouldn't say Heaslip played badly, that would be harsh, he played alright but nothing special that warranted man of the match. Kearney had played his heart out, as usual of course.
In the scrums, Ryan Grant, Ross Ford and Moray Low were no match for the power of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross. In fact, it was one of the most dominant displays you will ever see from Healy.
The Leinster loose-head folded up Low at every possible opportunity, causing the prop to drive into Ford and leaving three front-rows scrummaging against just one.
Scotland are looking like certainties to win the wooden spoon this season. Ireland sit top of the table after round one but will know they'll have to improve significantly before next week if they are to
remain in the hunt to retain that spot.
Get behind the lads
Not to sound a bit too much like Victor Meldrew, performance of the crowd next week has to be a lot better than it was on Sunday. Hearing 'The Fields of Athenry' not even sang but almost just spoken does not count for good atmosphere.
What happened to the old days where you would hear that belted out at the top of everyone's voices? I remember a time when the injury breaks were enjoyable because of it; on Sunday when the hymn started I could hear the referee Craig Joubert talking to his assistant saying
"Listen to this" then adding "Never mind it's usually louder". It depresses me that the passion from the supporters is dwindling away.
The Welsh always travel in large numbers, I look forward to them invading Dublin but hopefully going home disappointed! But one thing is for sure, they are not a nation afraid to make their voices heard, one of my predictions is for them to be louder.
I'd love to be proven wrong here, back in November during the All Blacks gamee Ryle Nugent said: "You can literally feel the earth move underneath the Aviva Stadium".
The atmosphere was spine chilling, let's not make that a one-off.
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