Gregor Townsend admitted Ireland were simply too good for his Scotland team to handle as their World Cup dream ended with a chastening 36-14 defeat by the world’s top-ranked side in Paris on Saturday night.
After losing their opening match to South Africa, the Scots had to win with a bonus point or by denying the Irish a losing bonus in order to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Their hopes were dented by the concession of a try after just over a minute and the game was effectively over by half-time as the Irish ran in another three scores before the break to lead 26-0.
Scotland rallied slightly to win the second half 14-10, but there was a sense of dejection at full-time as they departed the tournament at the first hurdle at a time when they are ranked fifth in the world.
“It’s a very disappointing result, we have gone out of the World Cup against the highest-ranked side in the world, and they were well ahead at half-time,” rued head coach Townsend.
“We played the number two side in the world in the opening game and it was a close game.
“In isolation, this is a really disappointing defeat against a very good side and one we believed we had the ability to beat.
“They were the better team tonight, they were excellent and it’s probably the best I have seen them play.
“It’s probably where we and they are in terms of the rankings and why now they are the favourites for the World Cup.”
Townsend did not feel James Lowe’s early try set the tone as Scotland went on to enjoy a spell of pressure thereafter, albeit without reward, before Ireland turned the screw in the lead-up to half-time.
“The early try wasn’t a factor as we managed in that first 20 minutes to put some good rugby together, but we didn’t put any points on the board,” said Townsend.
“The tries before half-time we could have defended better, but I have to give credit to Ireland as they executed very well and the game went away from us.
“In the second half, I was really proud of the effort and the intent to not allow the score to become a bigger one. We came back and showed who we were in attack.
“The game had gotten away from us, so we focused on winning back respect. To get two tries against such a top team, we’ll take a little bit out of that.
“We’re very disappointed with the result and the first-half performance, but credit to Ireland, who were very, very good.”
While the fact they were placed in a group alongside the world’s top-ranked side and the defending world champions counts as some mitigation for Scotland’s early exit, Townsend acknowledged his team were not at their best over the course of the tournament.
“We certainly have to do better, and the responsibility is mine,” he said. “We believed we could get out of this pool, and we still believed that after losing to South Africa with the response the players showed in training and the games they played (against Tonga and Romania), gave us an opportunity tonight, which we didn’t take.
“Ireland are a better team than us on tonight’s performance, and they’ve won 17 games in a row so they’ve clearly been the better team over the last couple of years. Now, if we can get on the journey they have been on the last few years then great – but it is easy saying that, it is another thing doing it.
“You become a better team through defeats as well as victories, and we’ve got to make sure that this defeat makes us a better team for the Six Nations coming up and the next World Cup, although at this point the Six Nations is much more relevant.”
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