Saturday 23 September 2017

Chalmers reckons sober Scotland can turn the tables on Ireland to end years of misery

Craig Chalmers is tackled by Mark McCall at Lansdowne Road in 1998 Photo: SPORTSFILE / David Maher
Craig Chalmers is tackled by Mark McCall at Lansdowne Road in 1998 Photo: SPORTSFILE / David Maher
David Kelly

David Kelly

Those of a certain age who remember Scottish prop Iain Milne would not be surprised to hear that at one post-match function, his weary slump was so pronounced that the table upon which he prostrated himself collapsed in several heaps.

"Waiter, bring me another table…" he intoned with a beery burr.

His successor, Lions out-half Craig Chalmers, was careful not to repeat Milne's mistake in Dublin in 1989 as the cherub-faced debutant was belatedly roasted by his new team-mates.

Chick, as he is known to friend and foe, after withstanding eager refuelling from an unnamed former Irish lock, who may or may not have also coached Scotland, neither collapsed on the table or crumpled beneath it.

"I just fell asleep on it," he recalls. "Then Geech (storied Grand Slam and Lions coach Ian McGeechan) and Dougie Morgan carried me off, still atop the table, to my room."

Easy to remember - or in some cases rather not - why some memories of halcyon days might come a little easier than others. In fairness, as far as Ireland were concerned, for Chalmers, like most of his 1990s vintage, there can only be happy reminiscence.

"I never lost to them," he reminds us, as most Scots of his vintage - now 48, the 1989 Lion's career as a clever out-half who could tackle (somewhat of a rarity then) spanned a decade of Scottish dominance over Ireland.

"Nine times, never lost," he chirps. "Always a good weekend, in every way. I remember meeting Keith Wood coming through the airport and he literally just whacked me in the chest. 'What the f**k is that for?' I asked him. 'Ah Jaysus for yesterday and all the other days!'"

The previous day's encounter had been an inglorious shoot-out for a wooden spoon; Ireland led late on, but Chalmers, assuming kicking duties after a team-mate had earlier spurned 11 points, kicked two late penalties to claim fourth place.

Pointless

Scotland edged pointless Ireland in the final table; then they drank them under the table. This is how the Celtic cousins rolled; sure, Ireland could beat England now and then. But Scotland? The Scots could win a Grand Slam, too; they should have reached a World Cup final.

Then the game went pro and all those Scotch whisky-splattered upturned tables were, well, turned.

"We never had it easy. But sometimes we did. It was good while it lasted," laments Chalmers; Ireland have lost just three in the Championship this century. "When they started winning, they couldn't stop."

Now the Scots became the laughing stock. And they couldn't even drown their sorrows in these days of grim-faced professional austerity.

"When we were Celtic cousins we never had to get motivated to beat England, they always had that arrogance and confidence. The abuse from the stands in Twickenham in 1995 was really nasty. I remember some of the wives and girlfriends saying the abuse of the players was terrible.

"And we got it going to the ground. It fired me up, I laughed it off and played even harder. I'm sure they found 1990 at Murrayfield pretty volatile."

Ireland drew even better from him; in 1997, his dad had died a fortnight before. "I had tonsillitis and generally I wasn't in a good place. But I played really well and we won easily."

An out-half will dominate if his pack does and usually trump his opponent; Ireland's pack is stronger and Chalmers thinks Irish fans shouldn't be fazed by Paddy Jackson's inclusion, despite his horror show in defeat here four years ago.

"He needs to step up. He reminds me of David Humphreys. When he first came on the scene, I played against him a couple of times and I didn't think he was that great. But he got better the older he got, he matured a little bit later into international rugby. It has taken Paddy longer to adjust. I have been impressed by him for Ireland and Ulster, he is an able deputy for Sexton.

"It is good for Sexton to be kept on his toes with Madigan out of the equation. Goal-kicking is massive. Ireland don't have loads of options there, whereas we have Hogg and Russell as well as Laidlaw.

"You need that option. I could kick and take shorter ones when Gavin Hastings had the yips for a couple of years. (forecast not great, could be a massive factor).

"If the tens play well, it normally means their team wins, the pack are on the front foot and your Henshaws and Dunbars are getting over the gain-line."

He may be feeling giddy but he has the Scots to win, 21-18. Hope springs eternal; Scotland have only once won on opening day this century; Ireland have only twice not done so.

"A lot of our guys are playing with confidence, it's just about getting it over the line." If they do, he'll be the first to raise a jar in celebration.

Irish Independent

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