Tuesday 23 January 2018

Flannery's boost for Ireland

Scotland 10 Ireland 6

Jonathan Sexton is tackled by Alasdair Strokosch during yesterday's World Cup warm-up game in Murrayfield. Photo: Brendan Moran
Jonathan Sexton is tackled by Alasdair Strokosch during yesterday's World Cup warm-up game in Murrayfield. Photo: Brendan Moran

BRENDAN FANNING, at Murrayfield

Never has such an involved preamble been followed by such a detached main event. Or if it has, then surely it was another one of these August games north of the equator where the object of course is to win, but the benefit comes in playing the game.

Yes, this was hard to watch, and yes it was also worthwhile. It was just that after a pre-game extravaganza with more marching bands and flag wavers and fireworks than you'd see on the Fourth of July -- even Declan Kidney's involvement in the Irish warm-up was positively animated -- you hoped the parade might break into a trot. It was more of a slow march.

At its end the Scots had their noses in front but not exactly their tails in the air. Andy Robinson put a largely first-choice selection in the field and, with two minutes left on the clock, Joe Ansbro brightened the mood of his coach when, off a good set-piece play from a lineout, he took Nick de Luca's pass to skate over out wide for Ruaridh Jackson to convert.

Winning is better than losing, and it was only their fourth success against Ireland in the last 14 games, so at least Robinson didn't have steam coming out of his ears afterwards.

Neither did Kidney, but then it would take something seismic and hugely damaging for that to happen. This reverse didn't satisfy either of those criteria, but neither was it very good, aside, as we've said, from the exercise afforded the players.

Of course it was instructive also in who was laying down markers and who was off the mark. Let's start where the game starts, up front. First to be taken off the field was Donnacha Ryan, and he should tell Kidney he has a bit of a head cold that will clear at the end of the month when he will be available to travel south. He was very good.

So was Denis Leamy, about whom, unlike Ryan, there is no doubt over his place in Kidney's World Cup plans. Our other prime point of interest up front was Mike McCarthy and he was given the full 80, at the end of which he looked fairly wrecked. That is not a bad thing. It would be interesting to see him in better company.

Behind the scrum Fergus McFadden was top of our agenda, not just because of his versatility but because he was filling in for Brian O'Driscoll. McFadden hasn't had a start in the 13 shirt for Leinster since last year so this was a huge step, and it was a pity that it concluded with him being left a bit flat-footed. There were a couple of weak links in the defensive chain that allowed that late try -- new cap Felix Jones and Rob Kearney got their wires crossed as well -- but it was McFadden's misfire that allowed De Luca make the space for Ansbro. Otherwise he tackled well and didn't get a lot of opportunity going forward.

Outside him on the left, Luke Fitzgerald started the game looking like the Luke Fitzgerald of the Lions tour two summers ago. Then he had a couple of horror moments when chip kicks turned into gifts. And finally he was called ashore to make way for Jones. You would have thought that Kearney, playing his first game since November, and who was cramping up by the end, would have been earmarked to go after an hour or so. Instead it was Fitzgerald, which thickens the plot on who will travel to NZ and who won't.

Tomas O'Leary's ticket has already been bought, but he struggled here. The scrumhalf was full of industry, as you would expect from one so athletic, and so frustrated at having spent an age waiting for a game, but from his first poor pass of the game, off a perfect tail of the lineout delivery, he was battling for consistency.

The best news of all perhaps was that Jerry Flannery came into a game of rugby and left at the end, when he was supposed to. The scrum was already struggling when he came on, having looked ok in the first half once it got to grips with referee Wayne Barnes's heavily pregnant pause, and it didn't help Ireland's chances of getting some control on the contest.

At half-time Ireland led 3-0 through a Jonny Sexton penalty, after what was perhaps a world record number of phases, and he swapped penalties with Chris Paterson in the second half before Ansbro's intervention.

The crowd greeted the result with delight, which told you something of this fixture in the last decade, and about how a try after 78 barren minutes is like a drink to thirsty traveller. There are a few miles to go yet.

Scorers -- Scotland: J Ansbro try; C Paterson pen; R Jackson con; Ireland: J Sexton 2 pens.

Scotland: C Paterson (N de Luca 71); N Walker (J Cuthbert 22), J Ansbro, G Morrison, S Lamont; R Jackson, R Lawson (capt; G Laidlaw 71); A Jacobsen (A Dickinson 58), R Ford (D Hall 71), G Cross, J Hamilton (A Kellock 58), R Gray, A Strokosch, J Beattie (D Denton 58), R Rennie.

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, F McFadden, P Wallace, L Fitzgerald (F Jones 61); J Sexton, T O'Leary (I Boss 61); T Court (M Horan 62), S Cronin (J Flannery 61), T Buckley (J Hayes 61), D Ryan (K McLaughlin 52), L Cullen (capt; M O'Driscoll 61), M McCarthy, D Leamy, N Ronan.

Referee: W Barnes (Eng).

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