'Result is all that matters for Ireland'
Scottish legend Gavin Hastings claims Irish selection reflects wise short-term thinking
Published 26/02/2011 | 05:00
As much as they seek to deny it, Ireland seem to have abandoned, temporarily at least, their pursuit of expansion in exchange for a more myopic quest for victory at all costs.
How else to interpret the reintroduction of Ronan O'Gara at out-half, not to mention the blizzard of mixed messages emanating from within the Irish camp about the quality of training and on-field communication?
And while former Scotland full-back Gavin Hastings may have formed part of the first wave of attacking No 15s in these isles, he has absorbed enough pragmatic lessons as he enters his 50th year to realise that, sometimes, you need to step back to advance.
While Scottish coach Andy Robinson's selection may scream of panic, 'Big Gav' is not fooled by Declan Kidney's overly conservative selection policy for tomorrow's Murrayfield appointment.
Expediency trumping evolution?
"Absolutely," affirms the man whose 61 caps (20 as captain) and two Lions tours (one, 1993, as captain) fully invests him with the authority to make such a sweeping judgment.
"Get the result. The Triple Crown is still open to Ireland if they were to win. A lot is made of looking forward but sometimes we forget the individual games.
"My impression of this Irish team is that they want to come away with a win this weekend and nothing else.
"It's interesting that Ronan O'Gara is back. Declan Kidney is sensing this game will be closer than a lot of people may be thinking, so he acknowledges that he may need O'Gara's experience in Murrayfield to ensure nothing is left to chance as far as the Irish performance is concerned."
Hence Hastings believes it is entirely logical for Ireland to pull the handbrake a tad, however much a dearth of squad rotation and a lack of imagination in terms of the replacements bench irritates so many supporters.
"People forget that in a condensed championship such as this, you don't get much time to recuperate and if players have niggles, you have to put them to one side or else miss a game," says Hastings.
"So teams' performances ebb and flow and it's difficult to get that consistency, especially when you're making enforced changes through injuries.
"The collisions are like car crashes every weekend and some players are able to recover better than other players.
"So you can't say from week to week which teams are definitely going to win. All we do know is that Scotland need a good start: they've shown that if they can get ahead they can protect the lead, but if they don't get ahead they find it very difficult to retrieve the situation."
Difficult would be one way of describing their last Murrayfield encounter against Wales. Hastings prefers another -- embarrassing.
"The Welsh game was embarrassing, especially given there was so much anticipation. Scotland forgot to turn up," he confirms.
"But there'll be an improvement this weekend and Andy Robinson will have read them the riot act.
"But honestly, they can do anything between games but if they don't turn up, then that is all just false action. They have to showcase their improvement on Sunday and nothing else counts. They'll be aware of that and so will everyone else.
"I'm pleased that Ritchie Gray is back in the team and more importantly Johnnie Beattie.
"He is a very good player, one of the key fulcrums of this Scottish team and he's been sorely missed.
"He played very well last year in the Croke Park win. We were so on the back foot against Wales so I just hope these two changes will galvanise the forward pack, bring some momentum and get some points on the board."
Hastings' international career coincided with a dark period in Irish rugby during the decade following Ireland's 1985 championship; he won all five of his Murrayfield bouts against his Celtic cousins and only lost one of five in Dublin.
During this time, Scotland achieved a feat that has still eluded Ireland, by reaching a World Cup semi-final although it was to be Hastings' astonishing and uncharacteristic penalty miss that allowed England off the hook in a dramatic semi-final.
That earned the English some sweet revenge following the Scots' 1990 Grand Slam success, when Hastings' cleverly placed tramline-hugging kick released Tony Stanger for the pivotal score in a memorable 13-7 Murrayfield win.
Hastings' retirement dovetailed with the introduction of professionalism and his country's precipitate decline has been as bleak as the windswept Orkneys since that 1995 Parisian revolution.
Only occasional spurts of former glories engage the Scottish supporters nowadays; particularly so in this fixture, where only three Tartan triumphs have pockmarked the last decade, only two within the context of this championship.
Yet Hastings is steadfast in his belief that his comrades can replicate last year's stunning upset in Croke Park, a victory which arguably first exposed the Irish squad's limitations in attempting to broaden their playing horizons.
"If Ireland can get parity up front, they'll have a chance," he assesses.
"But that's not a given because I fancy this Scottish pack and Moray Low is a better option at prop because I don't know what's been going on in Euan Murray's head these past few weeks.
"So after that, it's up to the backs to perform and knuckle down. They're up against a strong Irish outfit: Tommy Bowe has been terrific for the last couple of years, Luke Fitzgerald has great potential, though perhaps not as much as a full-back.
"But ultimately I'd back Scotland to win it. They haven't scored a try in 15 months at Murrayfield but I expect them to get a couple of tries at least."