The defeat proved costly for the hosts in terms of injuries, with Richie Gray, Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell picking up rib, ankle and knee knocks, respectively. Given the tight turnaround, all three must be considered doubtful for Scotland’s final match of the championship, against Italy in Edinburgh on Saturday.
Townsend’s side had led 7-3 at the midway point of the first half, with Huw Jones scoring his fourth try of the tournament. Ireland responded with a score from Mack Hansen and were 8-7 ahead at the turn but they took control after the break, with two tries in five minutes from James Lowe and Jack Conan.
“I am very disappointed with that second half,” said Townsend. “The first half was a very good Test match that went end to end. I felt we were on it. The players were a bit deflated that they were not leading at half time but that happens. We managed to stop Ireland scoring a couple of times in the first half and a couple of times they stopped us. It is just disappointing that the second half was not as competitive or with the same energy level from us and Ireland got ahead. We chased the game, maybe we had to, maybe it was too early to chase the game, but we were not happy with that last 15 minutes of our performance.”
The Scotland coach denied that his decision to take off props Pierre Schoeman and Zander Fagerson halted his side’s momentum. Both had been energetic and aggressive in the first 53 minutes, particularly Schoeman. “I felt our energy was dropping right throughout the team and in the forwards with the amount of work they did in that first half,” added Townsend. “Whether they could play another, five, ten minutes at that level… it was the decision I made in the coaching box.”
Scotland lost Richie Gray after only six minutes, the second row seeming to suffer a popped rib. Hogg, playing his 100th game for Scotland, went off after 64 minutes after injuring his ankle, and Russell limped off near the end. Ireland also suffered, losing both their hookers, Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher. Cian Healy, a third prop, filled in at the scrums, and flanker Josh van der Flier had to throw in at the lineouts. Townsend felt Scotland failed to capitalise on it. “That was a missed opportunity, we did not put more pressure on a less traditional thrower,” he said.
“I felt the whole of the second half we were not at the level we had been in the first half. It was disappointing in defence, it was disappointing in attack and we were passive at times and we lost the contact in the second half. We had been so good in the contact in the first half. I do feel that the first half was such a high level of pace and energy that both teams were not replicating that at the beginning of the second half. Ireland got confidence from going ahead and we started forcing things. We were a lot poorer in that last quarter in particular.”