Crown hopes dashed as Ireland disappoint in last Croker game

But there should be no complaints. This was a poor performance with the added worry of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy picking up injuries which Leinster must now hope do not threaten their participation in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Clermont Auvergne on April 9.

The question is whether D'Arcy should have started Saturday's Triple Crown clash with the Scots. The centre, who has been struggling since the Welsh game with a dead leg, never looked right.

Worryingly, there is a feeling that Ireland got ahead of themselves. While Declan Kidney's team deserve huge credit for their past achievements, nothing should ever be taken for granted. The Scots represented a real threat.

Most importantly, they had a good scrum, an area Ireland had struggled in all season, and an outstanding line-out. They also had a top class goalkicker in their out-half Dan Parks. Nothing had gone right for them in their previous Six Nations games, and they were due a change of luck.

Paul O'Connell hit the nail of the head when stating: "We needed to play to the best of our ability. We didn't, they did. It was a poor performance, we didn't wish to finish on a note like that."

But even O'Connell could not explain the game's biggest disappointment, the Irish line-out. What had been a strength in previous matches became a huge weakness. Hooker Rory Best had a bad day with his throwing while there also seemed to be a lack of communication.

Yet, substitute hooker Sean Cronin of Connacht was never brought on. Maybe the Irish coaching team believes he lacks the experience, but surely if he is good enough to be on the bench, he is good enough to play.

Thankfully, the line-out is an area Ireland should be able to solve before the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the scrum. Leinster's Cian Healy is still learning his trade at loose-head, while John Hayes is understandably feeling his 36 years at tight-head.

Their difficulties were all too apparent from the early stages. Although O'Driscoll scored an early try after a quality break from Jonathan Sexton to lead 7-3, Ireland never really looked comfortable. Sexton was having a poor day with his goalkicking, and there were simply too many unforced errors.

One of them was duly punished when number eight John Beattie availed of some some poor Irish tackling to crash over for a Scottish try. With Parkes landing the conversion and adding a drop goal just before half time, Scotland went in 14-7 ahead.

Eventually, Ireland did get level at 20-20 in the second half through Tommy Bowe's try and a conversion from the touchline from substitute Ronan O'Gara. But you always had the feeling that there was the potential for further disaster, and a minute from time, Parks duly kicked the winning penalty from the touchline.

Not really the way the Irish team had wanted to finish their stay at Croke Park but, rightly, there was an acceptance that the Scots deserved their victory. "We're here to get results and we didn't get one." said Kidney. "We got it wrong."

To his credit, hooker Best also put his hand up, stressing. " I didn't throw particularly well, it's just one of those things.When things are going grand, you take all the plaudits, now you have to take all the criticism too."

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