After losing by just seven points to the same opponents in the first game of the calendar year at the same venue in February, Scotland ended 2020 with a 15-point loss to Ireland.
A seven-point loss at home to France just over two weeks ago was the penultimate game of the 2020 season, having previously defeated that side by 11 points.
Despite that, scrum-half Ali Price maintains the team is heading in the right direction and can be confident ahead of the start of the 2021 Six Nations in two months’ time.
“We’re in a very different place to when the team came back from Japan,” Price said. For all, it’s been a weird year. It was nice that we were able to finish the Six Nations and play those Nations Cup games.
I think we played nine Tests this year and we were within a point of each outcome apart from that one – win or lose. That shows great character because we’ve played two or three of the best Northern Hemisphere-based teams in the world.
We’ve weighed ourselves against those teams, and we’re able to do so if we have a good day.
“I think the way we finished, especially in the second half [against Ireland], yeah, that’s disappointing,” he acknowledged. “But I think if you look at the bigger picture, if you look at how we’ve developed over those nine games to get to where we are now, we’re definitely in a better position than we were this time last year.”
Since 2010, Scotland have not won in Dublin, so a victory on Saturday would have sent a strong message about the progress of the team – and that was to be expected when after half an hour Gregor Townsend’s side led 3-9, having dominated both possession and the ground.
With the ball in hand, the visitors looked more threatening than they had done all autumn, but the game tipped over when central defender Duncan Taylor was yellow-carded in front of his own goal for a deliberate jostle and Ireland was in real danger for the first time in the game.
Ireland made the most of their numerical dominance, scoring a penalty and an attempt in the next ten minutes as Scotland struggled to find a way back into the game in the remaining time – proving that Scotland still has a long way to go to keep pace with the best teams of the world as they move into top gear for all their success in terms of physicality.
“All week we focused on being physical at the breakdown, being quick, because that was an area where we struggled in the February game, especially in attack,” Price said.
We executed so well in the first half. Our ball carriers were hard to carry, our pace was strong to help the carriers – and we were able to play, force penalties and create a score.
But in short periods of time, test matches are won and lost by fluctuations – which can win or lose the game.
We were the better team in the second half of the first half, but bad discipline made it possible for Ireland to get a good field position in the first five or ten minutes of the second half and they got away with points that you can’t afford to do.
“Before you know it, you’re 14 points behind, and that’s hard to make up.”
With 15 rulings against them compared to 10 against Ireland, the amount of penalties was uncomfortable for the Scottish team – and the most disappointing aspect was that at least half of them were absolutely groundless.
“It’s a tough nut to crack,” Price said. You feel those fluctuations when you’re on the field. We spoke before about trying not to pile error on error, penalty on penalty, but that’s what we did when we started the second half.
They had the ball and all the collisions immediately won. We were still in front, but it’s almost just a matter of time when you’re under a lot of pressure.
“Against a good team that will keep the ball, it’s inevitable that they will take points.”
This week, the players from Scotland will return to their clubs and the attention will quickly turn to the start of next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup campaign. In the campaign, there is absolutely no let up.
For Captain Stuart Hogg, second row Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner, and scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, that means going up as Glasgow Warriors against some of their teammates from the last few months, including