Six Nations: ‘Rope-a-dope’ Scotland stun Ireland

SCOTLAND made history with yesterday’s 12-8 defeat of Ireland by claiming a second-successive RBS Six Nations victory in the same spring for the first time.

The result also thrust Kelly Brown’s side into championship contention but the bizarre nature of the match was summed up after the final whistle when Scotland interim coach Scott Johnson compared it to Muhammad Ali’s legendary rope-a-dope tacticts in the “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match.

The Scots came into the game on the back of a four-try victory over Italy – their first win in seven Six Nations games. But Johnson insisted that they would need to play better and secure more ball than against the Italians if they were to have a hope of beating the Irish.

Yet Scotland turned in a less convincing display and saw so little of the ball that Johnson recalled the famous 1974 heavyweight title fight where Ali spent most of it on the ropes only to regain his world belt with a late knockout. Johnson said: “We took the few opportunities that came our way and they didn’t take theirs. That was the difference. I thought we must be watching Ali v Foreman or something, lulling them into a false sense of security. My neck was getting sore just looking down one end of the pitch. I wasn’t getting any vision anywhere else.”

Having taken delivery of his first piece of silverware as Scotland’s head coach, the Centenary Quaich, Johnson was quick to state that his desire to improve the national team’s fortunes would not last if that performance was repeated. We kept saying we wanted the Ws [wins] to come, by getting our part right. We got the W but we didn’t get our part right,” he said.

“We showed a different side to ourselves, a great resolve and character, and they are great qualities, but the key is we have to now start putting our positive qualities with the ball into play with the great strong character that we showed today.

“I’ve played in games where I’ve been on the other side, and it puts a bit of pressure on you as the team that should be in front.

“We went in at 3-0 [at half-time]. I would have taken that 20 minutes into the game. When Ireland scored soon after half-time I thought ‘oh, here we go, this is going to be a real test’, and a weaker side would have faded, but we showed great resolve.

“But, we’ve got to be honest and say that wasn’t perfect from us. We’ll enjoy the next 24 hours but, if we want to be a good quality side, we need to acknowledge that we’ve got to work on a few things.

“We were poor in certain areas against England and they punished us. Ireland didn’t.”

Scotland are second equal in the Six Nations table with Wales, both on two wins from three games, two points behind England. The Scots next face Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday 9 March then head to so-far winless France for the final match a week later. England host Italy and finish their campaign in Wales. Asked if his side could yet challenge England for the title, Johnson replied: “I think we’re in it. There’s no doubt that we can compete.”