Gregor Townsend was left to lament Scotland’s lineout weaknesses after seeing his side go down 27-24 to Ireland at BT Murrayfield in their Round 4 encounter.
The hosts lost six lineouts on their throw during Sunday’s affair, with their errors leading to a lack of possession and often handing their opponents the ball in threatening positions.
Andy Farrell’s men made the most of their set-piece dominance, with Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Beirne crossing and Johnny Sexton slotting a late penalty to claim the win in Edinburgh, which sees them rise into second in the Guinness Six Nations table.
Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Hamish Watson all dotted down in vain for the home side, who have now suffered back-to-back Championship defeats after beating England in Round 1, and Townsend believes his side shot themselves in the foot throughout the 80 minutes.
“The pressure Ireland put on our lineout gave them a lot of ball throughout the game and stopped us getting a platform to build off,” the Scotland boss said at his post-match press conference.
“That’s the frustrating thing that we’ve not been able to build on that excellent performance against England [in Round 1] and back that up with one, if not two victories.
“We definitely wanted to move Ireland around, we just didn’t get the set-piece ball to threaten them with our plays, whether they were one or two-phase plays.
“We had to rely on getting counter-attack ball or getting ball from restarts or getting ball from turnovers, but we certainly felt that with the players we have in our squad we could move them into those wide channels.”
It was the visitors who got the first try of the game in Edinburgh, as Sexton’s cross-field kick caused bother in the Scottish defence, with the ball popping up for Henshaw to dot down with just eight minutes on the clock.
But just before the half-hour mark the hosts took the lead, as Stuart Hogg charged down Garry Ringrose’s kick, before hacking the ball on for Russell to collect, with the fly-half’s kick slipping through the hands of James Lowe before he managed to touch down.
Two more penalties from Sexton made it 14-10 heading into the break, before Beirne bundled over just after the break and Sexton added another three-pointer to give Farrell’s side a 14-point advantage.
Jones then took matters into his own hands to close the gap on the hour mark, as he slalomed between defenders before motoring to the line, before Watson set up a grandstand finish by levelling the scores with seven minutes left on the clock.
But as he has done so often through the years, captain fantastic Sexton kept his cool from the kicking tee to secure a slender victory for the visitors, who made it back-to-back wins after overcoming Italy in Round 3.
The defeat left Townsend wondering what might have been in Edinburgh, as they still managed to score three tries despite Ireland having the lion’s share of possession.
“I thought we did improve as we went through the second half and we showed what we can do when we have ball,” added Townsend.
“We scored three tries and I think we only had two lineouts to play off, so it’s doubly frustrating.
“But we did show that when we did get ball we got right back into the game and scored tries and put pressure on Ireland, but we have to be better in all aspects.
“As much as I’m so down about the loss, and I know our players are and our supporters are too, there is still a lot to be proud of this team.”
And for captain Hogg the defeat was tough to take after seemingly rescuing the game with a remarkable second-half fightback, only for that work to be undone at the death.
But the Scottish skipper believes his teammates have the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs of the Ireland performance in Round 5, when they welcome winless Italy to Edinburgh.
“I think it’s a frustrating outcome, for large periods of that game we showed what we are about. We stood firm in defence and really challenged them and in attack when we had ball we probably lacked that clinical edge at times,” Hogg said.
“It’s difficult to take at the minute, the boys are really disappointed with the final outcome. The frustrating thing for myself and the rest of the boys is that we know we’re a lot better than that, we’re a lot better than what we showed at times.
“It’s pointless sitting here and concentrating too much on what’s happened, we’re going to have to take it on board really quickly and get back to what we do best.
“We want to be in a position where we’re comfortable and in control of everything and having the foot on the throttle from the very beginning.
“That’s a challenge the boys are more than capable of doing, the annoying thing for us now is that we have to wait until next week to perform.”