Dream of genius inspires as kindred spirits spark joy
Edinburgh is a city that prides itself on being both rugged and refined, austere yet aesthetic. The rugby it hosted on Saturday shared similar traits, mostly leaning towards the insipid, if not the inspired.
“Edinburgh is a dream of great genius,” the artist Benjamin Haydon once said, but genius was mostly inhibited in Murrayfield, even if occasionally it flickered into rare being.
Ireland’s stunning try from Jacob Stokckdale presented it in collective form. It was a wondrous team effort, sparked by the ruggedness of Johnny Sexton’s selflessness, absorbing the inevitable physical punishment required to send his team-mate into open territory – it would remove him from the spectacle.
Opposite him, the gifted Finn Russell would step up, but his efforts at magic were often subsumed by a claustrophobic defence. Still, he and his new rival Joey Carbery would provide equally sumptuous moments out of character with a game that seemed often to be a throwback to the hurly burly, haphazard days of the last century meetings between these sides.
The first would ironically stem from a Carbery error, when his instinctive urge to make something happen was interrupted by a kindred spirit.
Incorrectly assuming his side still enjoyed an advantage, Carbery attempted a risky pass on the edge of the gain-line, but Russell pounced.
“We try to bring a lot of line speed to our defence,” Russell told us.
“For a 10, if you’ve forwards outside you, a team is shooting up and you can see that early on, so that is a trigger for myself.
“Either pick him off or get him to turn back inside. Luckily enough he threw the pass. That was one of the mistakes and he will learn from it. I think the next time he doesn’t throw that pass.”
Rory Best conceded his side were much too tight; there should have been a message to reset, but it never came.
Carbery took the risk, but Russell sensed a reward. As someone who eschews the safe option, Russell and Carbery were as one, though on opposite sides.
Then, though tagged by Keith Earls, when he was floored, he held on to the ball and, in a match defined by the frenetic, this great player trapped time in a bottle.
“In these moments, you have to have a calm head,” explained Russell.
“If you force something and rush it, either you make the wrong decision or you don’t execute well. I knew I would have time on the ball.
“And if the man comes on, I’ll hold on to it and just go from there.
“I could see Huw Jones to my left. Sam Johnson did well to get to the outside. I saw him the whole way. I was looking to get the opportunity, waiting for that gap, that window. And I managed to get it and he read it well.”
Carbery read the runes, and the ruins, but recovered, resiliently.
The only other occasion when time seemed to stand still in this hurtling encounter was after Carbery’s stunning break led to Earls’ game-defining score in the second-half.
Again, like Russell, he knew the score wouldn’t be his; he would have to provide it. And again, he thieved time by seizing the moment, leaning sympathetically towards his right-winger and delivering a sublime 30-yard pass whose perfect technique belied the pressure of the occasion.
“The ball seemed to be in the air for an eternity,” he said. It is what great players do. Not thinking, just being.
“I didn’t really think of it at the time, but I suppose the reps and the practice that has gone in before the game and over the last few years come into play and you kind of trust that you can do it.”
Russell, guilty of over-confidently tapping a quick penalty when Scotland were on a second quarter surge, empathises.
“You’re not going to get everything right. Whether it’s kicking, passing or running. The way he plays, it’s an exciting game.
“He looks to run and have a go, setting guys up or taking it on himself. When you play an attacking game, there are going to be mistakes. Everyone does it, but it’s how you learn from them and bounce back.”
Carbery’s instinct cannot be reined in; without it, the Earls try doesn’t happen. Carbery would prefer not to make mistakes but without them a player would never try to create, to impose, to make something happen out of nothing.
“If you’re not making mistakes you’re probably doing the right thing, which is a good thing,” he said in an effort to demur. “But look, I think mistakes happen in games and it’s how we react to those mistakes.”
Gregor Townsend was another kindred spirit in his day.
“Joey played a bit deeper to have more of a running game himself, and it was a bit of bad luck for us to have two guys colliding in the tackle, but the strength of his running game to make that break turned out to be a massive part of the game,” he noted.
“When Joey comes on he offers a different threat to Johnny,” added Russell. “Johnny controls the game a lot better, is a lot more experienced.
“For Joey, having Conor Murray there, it’s a bit like me when I first came in, I had Greig (Laidlaw).
“It’s probably not a good thing now perhaps, having him coming on, but with the World Cup in mind, getting more experience is good.
“He is a different threat, you saw that try he set up, making that break and throwing the pass.”
Italy will provide another chance for Carbery to provide a more complete display.
In blowy Edinburgh, the winds of change invites another string to Ireland’s bow. A dream of genius to inspire us all.