Wednesday 17 July 2019

Bravehearts speared by not-too-sharp Ireland

Ireland 28-22 Scotland

Luke Fitzgerald gets the better of Scotland's Sam Hidalgo-Clyne on his way to scoring Ireland's fourth try at the Aviva Stadium Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Luke Fitzgerald gets the better of Scotland's Sam Hidalgo-Clyne on his way to scoring Ireland's fourth try at the Aviva Stadium Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Tommy Bowe and Scotland's Greig Tonks struggle for control of the ball
Head coach Joe Schmidt oversaw Ireland's victory
Scotland's Peter Horne was able to fend off Jared Payne to score a try
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The last time these sides met, five months ago, Ireland were on the cusp of back-to-back Six Nations titles and needing a stack of points to secure that title.

It was a great day in every respect. Yesterday's poorly attended event in Aviva Stadium was not so much a different chapter from the same book as an entirely new script.

If you were among the attendance of circa 30,000 you probably would have gone home talking about the fitful nature of the Ireland performance rather than the fact that they won, with four tries scored. For example, with five minutes left, Ian Madigan had a penalty to close the deal and allow for a stress-free last few minutes. He pulled it right of the target, and you could feel the unease spreading around the ground.

The effect of that was to give the Scots a surge of energy in chasing down the six-point deficit. They came up short, but not too far short, causing the Irish defence some discomfort. Defence wasn't exactly a comfort zone for the home side, and 23 tackles missed is well above what they would be aiming for.

That certainly contributed to the struggle against a side playing their first warm-up of four, and who started with perhaps four backs who won't even be going to the World Cup. So Vern Cotter will have come away from the exercise probably feeling better about it all than his old mate, Joe Schmidt.

Scotland looked sharp enough for a team having their first outing. They offloaded well and regularly left defenders in green for dead. If their scrum was better they might have brought more to the game, but even so they were not at all bad.

At first, it looked like Ireland, much the stronger at the scrum, would have a handy enough run-out. After 15 minutes their dominance was rewarded with a score when Chris Henry barreled his way over from short distance. It had all started with a perfectly delivered lineout by Devin Toner who would feature prominently in a performance out of touch that yielded 11 balls from 12 throws.

But by the time the teams were walking off at the break it was the Scots who looked happier with their first shift. Despite suffering at the set-piece they had recovered well, and, on the half-hour mark, had drawn level.

It was an uplifting score if you were a Scot. First, there was the satisfaction of seeing Ireland mess up, at the cost of a penalty, an uninspiring set-play off a lineout that involved Dan Tuohy trying to open a hole by holding on to his man illegally after the ball had left the scene. From the penalty Scotland built an impressive stack of phases en route to the Ireland 22, with David Denton featuring large as a carrier. It finished with Ruaridh Jackson, Richie Vernon and Blair Cowan combining on the short side, with the flanker crashing over.

Peter Horne added the points, and with Ian Madigan leaving the restart short, the Scots reckoned they were about to motor on. Unfortunately for them, the vehicle was another scrum at which they were buckled again.

Even so, Ireland were unable to make anything of the award, and it was the away team who had a chance to go in ahead at the break when Horne had a shot on goal after Dave Kilcoyne was done for a late charge. He missed.

The second period had a ping-pong feel to it with neither side able to put together successive scores. Henry Pyrgos got Scotland off to a flyer on 45 minutes when he got between Mike Ross and debutant Jack Conan to score off a ruck, and minutes later Denton chose a wrong option that, had he got right, Scotland would have been able to open up a lead.

Instead, it bounced back and forth with Sean Cronin regaining the lead of a driven maul, only for Horne to take it back again with a penalty. Man of the Match, Simon Zebo, got over on 62 minutes but again Scotland responded before a lovely cross kick by Ian Madigan was finished by Luke Fitzgerald.

The full-back consistently made ground and did very well both in the line he ran for the try, and the footwork when he got the ball. His connections with Fitzgerald looked ropey, however, and the wing will be reminded more about a short clearance kick that opened the door for a lovely try by Horne on 64 minutes.

Not the best game you will have seen but, at first glance, no major casualties were suffered by Ireland. At this stage in the process, and with a week's rest before Wales come here for round three of the Guinness series, that's a welcome development.

Scorers - Ireland: C Henry, S Cronin, S Zebo, L Fitzgerald try each; I Madigan 4 cons; Scotland: P Horne try, pen, con, B Cowan, H Pyrgos try each; R Jackson con.

Ireland: S Zebo (P Jackson 78); T Bowe, J Payne, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, I Boss (E Reddan 66); D Kilcoyne (M Bent 61), S Cronin (R Strauss 61), M Ross (N White 52), D Toner, D Tuohy (P O'Connell 55), J Conan (J Murphy 64), S O'Brien, C Henry

Scotland: R Jackson; S Lamont, R Vernon, P Horne, T Visser; G Tonks, H Pyrgos (capt; S Hidalgo-Clyne 66); R Grant (G Reid 45), F Brown (R Ford 52), J Welsh (M Cusack 47 temp), J Hamilton (R Harley 55), G Gilchrist, B Cowan (J Barclay 58), D Denton, H Blake

Referee: P Gauzere (France)

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