Friday 19 January 2018

Hogg puts ravenous Scots on pig's back as Irish caught daydreaming

Stuart Hogg's tries put Scotland firmly in the driving seat on Saturday Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Stuart Hogg's tries put Scotland firmly in the driving seat on Saturday Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Princess Anne went around to all of the Scottish players before the game. She had a word for every man among them and the princess doesn't even have to run for election.

I don't know what the Princess said but she had most of the Scots in stitches.

Could it be the one about Paddy Scotsman and Paddy Irishman? The one where Scotland win against the odds and go 14 points up with the kettle only just switched on.

So in a couple of hours in Murrayfield Ireland lost a match, a Triple Crown and a Grand Slam.

Only Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, Rory Best and Tommy Bowe have won a Grand Slam. In many ways the game was lost in Soldier Field. It could be that, in spite of all the reassurances, we may have been just a tad over-confident.

Then the whole country was talking about the last-game "showdown" with England. The scramble for tickets was more desperate even than the fight for berths on the lifeboat when the ship is sinking.

The third Scottish try was scored when we were sound asleep. Alex Dunbar, who is a centre, was loitering in the lineout and he ran in the softest try ever. How Ireland didn't cop on to the fact a centre was in the middle of the lineout is beyond me.

It was like a robber taking the bus to the bank dressed in his balaclava.

The locals were singing 'Flower of Scotland' 10 minutes before half-time. The anthem is usually performed just before the game and a couple of hours after the final whistle, when the pain of defeat gives way to the mood-enhancing effects of a peaty single malt.

Scotland hadn't won the first game of the Six Nations in 11 years. The pain showed and Scotland were ravenous for possession, especially on the ground. They robbed our ball and so gained revenge for the two notorious Edinburgh Irishmen Burke and Hare, who stole dead bodies, and a few live ones too who were killed for the medical dissection market.

Blocked

Scotland blocked the Irish right of way with their bodies. Ireland didn't have the same work-rate or hunger in that chaotic first-half.

It was back in 2011 and Ireland were knocked out of the World Cup by Wales after we beat Australia well in the group stages.

Ronan O'Gara was asked the first question in any post-mortem and it was "where did it all go wrong?"

ROG was as honest as ever.

His reply was: "I think we fell a small bit in love with ourselves."

I'm sure Joe warned the players. But it was only at half-time that the message got through. We did go a point up and the second half was good. Ireland weren't short of courage and our scrum was very good.

For some reason we didn't kick on.

It could have been Ireland had to work too hard to get back into a very fast game where the only rest was at half-time.

Van der Flier should have started. Ireland needed his mobility. We didn't get the mechanics right between power and pace.

We could crib about Romain Poite who left his cards in the deck. The wide Scots rush-defence went off well before the traps came up and Scotland gave away penalties to stop tries being scored.

It would be churlish not to praise Scotland. They punished us in the first-half with some fiery, classy and brainy rugby. Scotland finished the stronger and most of the last 10 minutes were played in our half.

Stuart Hogg was the best player on the pitch. Hogg's tries put Scotland on the pig's back. Sorry about that last line but I'm writing for Mondays now and I want to make a good impression. It's a positional switch from Saturdays after 15 years. Tell me why I love Mondays.

Competition

All is not lost. We are still in the competition and recent championships have shown the Six Nations is hardly ever over before the last game.

Forget the Grand Slam now and let's hear no more about it. Ireland haven't won that many Five or Six Nations titles in most of our lifetimes. It's a huge prize. Italy is the focus now and it will not be as easy.

We did get a losing bonus point and were the better team for a good part of the match. The game will do us good. Ireland were underdone. About medium-rare I'd say. And we have big players to come back in to the team.

Paddy Jackson was excellent, bar that one mistake late on which gave Scotland the winning penalty. His try should have been the winning score and his goal kicking was top class.

I think though Joe will go for Jonathan Sexton for his long passes and long kicks. We have very young centres who need guidance and bossing. We should have put more ball in the air in the hope of knock-ons. There were very few scrums and we won the scrums

People are very disappointed. The game of rugby lifts our mood in the dark, cold months of winter. In a country where the game is only our fourth sport, there is a huge following from every part of society for the national team.

Now the challenge is for Ireland to lift our country yet again. There is life after Murrayfield. I really believe we can battle back. It's down to playing smarter and harder.

The Irish players play for their people and are well aware of the part they play in enhancing the lives of all of us.

Irish Independent

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