Sport Rugby

Wednesday 21 March 2018

History shows why Schmidt can expect to beat the Scots

Ireland victory likely unless they start playing 'like Harlem Globetrotters'

Dave Kilcoyne in action against during Ireland’s defeat against Scotland in Murrayfield last year Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Dave Kilcoyne in action against during Ireland’s defeat against Scotland in Murrayfield last year Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Joe Schmidt playing the shrugging, slightly bashful new coaching face of the Six Nations may be the best bit of casting since Al Pacino as Tony D'Amato, but he is unlikely to feel a need for any "heal now as a team or die as individuals" oratory next Sunday.

Schmidt will expect a win against Scotland because it is the Irish condition to do so. Carelessness has become the only flashing light visible to Ireland's players in their modern relationship with the Scots.

Donncha O'Callaghan reckoned that the Triple Crown blown at Croke Park in 2010 – Scotland winning with a late Dan Parks penalty – was down to Ireland deciding "to play like the Harlem Globetrotters."

Ronan O'Gara reckoned that the defeat at Murrayfield last season was largely self-inflicted.

"If I'd started against Scotland, we would have been out of sight before they came into the game" he wrote in his book 'Unguarded.'


Those two losses stand in stark isolation as Ireland's only Six Nations disappointments against Scotland since the delayed 'Foot and Mouth' Championship encounter of '01.

The Scots won an October game that year by 32-10, four tries to one.

Afterwards, there were rumours of tension between coach, Warren Gatland and certain IRFU committee-men in the team-hotel bar.

Every Irish set-piece looked to have been perfectly anticipated by their hosts, Anthony Foley grumbling after that "maybe they'd been secretly filming our training sessions."

Some time later, David Humphreys would recall a conversation with opposing 10, Gregor Townsend, in which he indicated that the Scottish management had, indeed, somehow successfully spied Ireland's set-piece game plan.

All changed one year later when, with Eddie O'Sullivan now at the helm, Brian O'Driscoll's hat-trick propelled Ireland to a commanding 43-22 Lansdowne Road victory.

And, in the Six Nations of '03, Ireland then ended an 18-year winless streak at Murrayfield by ruthlessly trouncing their hosts 36-6.

The dynamic of the rivalry had, suddenly, been pitched on its head.

And yet, Ireland winning 10 of the 12 Six Nations meetings with Scotland since '01 tells only part of this story.

Because most of those victories have been witheringly comprehensive.

Consider this: Scotland's Six Nations try-count against Ireland from the last dozen Championships? Six.

And Ireland's against the Scots in that same period? Thirty four.

By that arithmetic, the Irish have – essentially – been scoring six tries to every one for Scotland in the modern history of this old Celtic rivalry.

Before that victory of '03, O'Sullivan insisted on the squad travelling early to Edinburgh, despite the game being a Sunday fixture. He believed that the players had become psychologically timid on trips to Scotland.

"We never feared Scotland at Lansdowne Road," wrote O'Sullivan in his autobiography, "but at Murrayfield we treated them like the All Blacks!"

Ireland stayed that year in the old Balmoral Hotel at the bottom of Prince's Street and the coach encouraged his players to get out and about, soaking up the city atmosphere.

He also played a gentle swindle on the Scots, deliberately leaving a set of old line-out notes behind on a dustbin in the gym they had been compelled to use for training, with Edinburgh caught in the grip of a big freeze. The following day, a local caretaker denied seeing anything when asked if, perhaps, he'd found "a few notes."

Ireland would not lose a single ball on their own throw at Murrayfield that Sunday, O'Sullivan describing the Scottish line-out defence as "like the Keystone Cops."

The 37-16 Dublin victory in '04 secured Ireland's first Triple Crown since Mick Doyle's 'give-it-a-lash' heroes of '85 and only the country's seventh in more than a century of rugby.

A David Wallace try proved pivotal after the Scots had tied the game at 16-16 early in the second-half.

One year later, John Hayes scored his only try for Ireland in a commanding 40-13 win at Murrayfield, that late touchdown proving a source of great joy among his team-mates.

"I more or less fell over the line," Hayes would recall. "Can't say it was a thing of beauty. I got to my feet only to find the lads laughing their heads off."

The 'Bull' was much loved within that squad and, with them based at Citywest in the build-up to their next game against England, they were given a private audience with Christy Moore and his brother, singer song-writer Luka Bloom.

Late in the evening, Bloom sang a song he had written specifically for the occasion.

It was titled 'Weapon of Mass Destruction' and amounted to a call for Hayes to be tried on the wing.

The next two renewals brought a suspension of that high-scoring trend, Ireland winning a dour '06 game in pouring Dublin rain, Ronan O'Gara's five penalty kicks enough to beat Chris Paterson's three. And O'Gara was Ireland's only scorer again the following year at Murrayfield, getting the only try of the game, as well as a conversion and four penalties.


That 19-18 victory triggered perhaps the most subdued Triple Crown celebrations in history, the game ending in a climate of consternation after O'Gara almost choked to death at the bottom of a late ruck.

He would describe the sensation in his autobiography thus: "Bodies on top of me. No air. I could feel myself suffocating. I roared at them to get off, but after about five seconds I had no breath left. Nobody budged. I could feel myself drifting off. Lights out. Unconscious."

'Bull' Hayes was quickest to react, instantly placing O'Gara on his side in the recovery position.

One of the Irish players suggested to O'Sullivan that the act had been deliberate and he brought that information with him to his post-match press conference. The citing commissioner would eventually find that no Scottish player had a case to answer and, after a few tense days, the story would peter out.

Ireland had won their third Crown in four seasons, but the dressing-room couldn't have been quieter had they lost.

Ireland won comfortably at Croke Park in '08 by 34-13 (four tries to one), then racked up their fourth consecutive Murrayfield win en route to the Grand Slam twelve months later.

O'Callaghan would write in his autobiography, 'Joking Apart', of Declan Kidney's endless warnings before that '09 contest in Edinburgh and a sense that the team "almost talked ourselves into a state of paranoia."

Jamie Heaslip would score the only try of the game from a brilliant Peter Stringer break and, with O'Gara kicking 17 points, Ireland edged home in what Hayes called "a dour, sticky old match."

One year later, after Scotland's surprise win at Croke Park deprived Ireland a fifth Triple Crown in seven seasons, O'Callaghan was inclined to recognise the wisdom of Kidney's '09 caution.

"In hindsight, maybe that's the best way to be against them," he wrote of the Scots, remarking how in the 2010 fixture – Ireland's last outing at GAA headquarters – "we weren't really worried about them. We decided to play like the Harlem Globetrotters and we lost."

Ireland got back to winning ways in 2011 and 2012, inaccuracy almost causing them to blow the former having outscored their hosts by three tries to nil.

In 2012, the Dublin audit was four tries to one in Ireland's favour and, despite an epidemic of injuries, they went back to Edinburgh last February broadly confident of another win.

With an injured Sexton watching the game from at home in his Dublin apartment, O'Gara believed he should have started.

But Kidney's faith was placed in Paddy Jackson, whose goal-kicking betrayed the rustiness of a man not taking kicks for his club.

O'Gara would, eventually, be introduced in the second period, yet his final Six Nations game would be remembered mainly for a grotesquely miss-hit cross-kick that almost led to a Scottish try.

At the end of the 8-12 defeat, he put his hand up in the dressing-room only for some team-mates to counsel against such candour on the basis that "They'll use that stick to beat you."

The advice disappointed him.

"In honest dressing-rooms, that wouldn't happen," he wrote.

For Schmidt, the challenge of restoring a straight-talk code now will be fundamental to his first Six Nations as Irish coach. But Scotland in Dublin represents an opener that he and the players will undeniably expect to win.

Recent history has conditioned them to it.

Irish Independent

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