THE first shots in the phoney war ahead of Scotland’s World Cup campaign proper were fired on Saturday afternoon in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and while the result was Scotland’s sixth loss in succession, Vern Cotter’s men did at least land a few good blows on classy Irish opposition.
The first quarter of the match went according to plans, well, Irish ones at any rate, with the home side dominated the opening exchanges and scoring the first try inside the opening 15 minutes.
We were dangerous, we were moving the ball and we had them on the rackPeter Horne
That opening score fell to Chris Henry, a story in itself since the Ulster flanker was making his first appearance in green since suffering a minor stroke last November and having surgery to close a small hole in his heart.
The Scots rallied and could have taken the lead into the half time break after quick hands sent Blair Cowan over in the corner and Peter Horne made good the touchline conversion but he couldn’t repeat the trick with a penalty just before the break.
The match may prove a breakthrough game for the diminutive Glasgow midfielder who scored a try, a conversion and a penalty. More importantly Horne proved a genuine threat with the ball in hand, making several line breaks and looking solid in defence. Even if winger Sean Lamont deserves an “assist” for teeing up his second-half try, Horne showed good pace to finish it from 20 yards out.
“I have Sean Lamont to thank,” said the centre after the match. “He did all the hard work. He straightened the line and broke a couple of tackles.
“It was a positive performance in a lot of aspects, although we didn’t start too well, were slow out of the blocks and were under the cosh for about 20 minutes. But then we had a real shift of momentum after they scored and we were in control of that second 20 minutes. We scored a good try and we were down there for a while. Unfortunately I missed a penalty but we should have been 10-7 up.”
The match had been something of a slow burner up to that point but it burst into flames in the second 40 with a slew of scores at both ends of the field that saw the lead changing hands six times in all.
Henry Pyrgos led from the front with a typical scrumhalf’s try just after the restart; held up short the Scotland skipper reached out and dotted down on the Irish try line. Sean Cronin hit back ten minutes later when the Irish pack drove a maul and the hooker was the one to benefit.
Horne added a penalty for the visitors before fullback Simon Zebo nosed Ireland ahead with a well-taken try on 61 minutes after a neat inside pass from his flyhalf. The lead didn’t last long as Lamont carved out a score for Horne at the other end of the field, with the centre racing in from distance. Ruaridh Jackson kicked the conversion, perhaps Horne was still catching his breath, and the Scots again held a slender lead but they failed to see out the remainder of the match.
Ten minutes from time Ian Madigan found Luke Fitzgerald with a perfectly weighted kick that fell straight into the winger’s arms who was going full pelt down the left flank. Lamont was caught out of position and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s heroic attempt to stifle the threat just fell short.
“Again, in the second half I thought there were times when we did really well,” Horne said. “We were dangerous, we were moving the ball, moving the target and we had them on the rack for a bit.
“So there was disappointment at the end that we didn’t exit that well, that we gave them field position which ultimately led to the [winning] try. That was a shame but there was a lot of good stuff top work on so we just need to make sure that that’s the marker set, and we need to build on that and have three more positive performances.
“Ireland have that wide-wide game that they were playing, which is very difficult to defend at times, especially when they are getting the ball through the phases. But then that’s similar to us, we caused them a lot of problems in that area.
“It’s a shame, we worked hard at it but a couple of times we got caught out when we were just a wee bit short in the middle when they were playing out the back of the second receiver. So there’s a lot to work on but we’re getting there, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Scorers. Ireland: Tries: Henry, Cronin, Zebo, Fitzgerald. Cons: Madigan (4). Scotland: Tries: Cowan, Pyrgos, Horne. Cons: Horne, Jackson. Pen: Horne.
Scotland: Jackson, Lamont, Vernon (Scott 60), Horne, Visser; Tonks, Pyrgos (Hidalgo-Clyne); Grant (Reid 44), Brown (Ford 51), Welsh (Cusack 46), Hamilton (Harley 55) Gilchrist, Cowan (Barclay 57), Blake, Denton.
Ireland: Zebo, Bowe (Kearney 60), Payne, D’Arcy, Fitzgerald; Madigan, Boss (Reddan 66); Kilcoyne, Cronin, Ross (White 51), Toney, Tuohy (O’Connell 55), Conan, Henry, O’Brien.