FIVE months is a long time in rugby and both teams can take something from this match: the Irish another win, the Scots a much improved showing.
After losing by a mile last March, a makeshift Scotland side were one converted try away from claiming an unexpected victory in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. In danger of being blown away in the opening quarter, the Scots regrouped and inched their way back into contention and the scores were tied at 14-14 midway through the second half when the match suddenly sparked into life with a flurry of scores at both ends of the field.
Peter Horne’s penalty gave the visitors a two point lead on the hour mark. Irish fullback Simon Zebo took an inside ball to score under the posts and regain the lead only for Horne to finish off a spectacular move with a 20-yard sprint to the Irish line after Sean Lamont sent him on his way.
With the match finely poised it fell to Luke Fitzgerald to make a spectacular response when the winger latched on to Ian Madigan’s inch-perfect cross kick to score the final try which sealed victory ten minutes from time.
The result was probably not the most important aspect of this encounter, especially given Scotland’s experimental line up, but Vern Cotter’s side has now lost six matches on the bounce and they are in sore need of a morale-boosting victory in Turin next Saturday. On this form they should get it.
The Scots struggled to achieve parity with the men in green at the breakdown, where the Irish cheat better than almost anyone else, but plenty of the visiting team did themselves no harm, especially Horne, David Denton, Ruaridh Jackson and even the much criticised Kiwi flanker Hugh Blake made a very promising bow. It was a night and day from the disappointment of the Six Nations.
The Irish do nothing exceptionally well but they do run hard and straight when they have the ball and they take some stopping. After just three or four phases the blue brick wall was already losing its shape. Against that the Scots managed three good tries themselves and another couple were not far away had the visitors showed a little more composure.
The Scottish front five looked solid enough on paper but while some set scrums dropped anchor the Irish got the squeeze on at several others. As early as the 26th minute David Kilcoyne had Jon Welsh in full retreat as the Munsterman won Ireland a turnover at a midfield scrum.
Henry’s opening score came with a penalty advantage looming after poor discipline allowed the Irish an attacking lineout deep inside the Scottish 22. The play went to the right first where the Scots defence held firm and when the ball came back to the left there was no obvious reason to panic. Henry ran straight at Jim Hamilton who had Blake to help him but the Irishman kept his feet and legs pumping and the cavalry arrived to bundle him over the line.
Having weathered the early storm, the Scots slowly inched their way back into this match. Jackson showed glimpses of his old self with the ball in hand and Denton did his chances of a World Cup spot no harm by carrying tirelessly several times in the lead up to Cowan’s 30 minute try which arrived after smart handling by Jackson and Richie Vernon before the flanker dived over in the corner.
Buoyed by the score the Scots dominated the final ten minutes of the half and Horne missed a tricky penalty. The Scots maintained the pressure early in the second when Visser sparked a counter-attack that saw Ryan Grant injure his ankle in a charge at the line just before Pyrgos slipped in under the Irish radar to give the visitors an unexpected 14-7 lead after 45 minutes.
With the players tiring, the game opened up in the last half hour with opportunities at both ends of the park. Visser and Pyrgos, again, had half chances for the visitors while the Irish hooker Sean Cronin made no mistake at the other end of the field when the big men rumbled a maul over the Scottish line with alarming ease. Madigan’s conversion levelled the scores and the appearance of Paul O’Connell off the bench gave the Irish an added boost.
The two teams swapped tries, Zebo for Ireland, Horne for the visitors, before Madigan’s crossfield kick to Fitzgerald proved a worthy winner for the home team with ten minutes left on the clock.
Ireland: Zebo, Bowe, Payne, D’Arcy, Fitzgerald, Madigan, Boss, Kilcoyne, Cronin, Ross, Toner, Tuohy, Conan, Henry, O’Brien. Replacements: Strauss, Bent, White, O’Connell, Murphy, Reddan, Jackson, D Kearney.
Scotland: Jackson, Lamont, Vernon, Horne, Visser, Tonks, Pyrgos, Grant, Brown, Welsh, Hamilton, Gilchrist, Cowan, Blake, Denton. Replacements: Ford, Reid, Cusack, Harley, Barclay, Hidalgo-Clyne, Weir, Scott.
Referee: P Gauzere (France)