Tuesday 21 November 2017

Video: Brendan Fanning: Kidney's men look in rude health

Ireland 32 Scotland 14

Andrew Trimble scores Ireland's third try in the victory over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Billy Stickland
Andrew Trimble scores Ireland's third try in the victory over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Billy Stickland
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you came to Lansdowne Road yesterday expecting Scotland to continue their progress in form then you might want to volunteer for a blood test to see if a mind altering substance got into your system.

Statistically, Andy Robinson's team is a basket case, with two wins -- against Samoa and Japan -- from their last 13 Tests, but on each of the three steps along the way in this championship you could see that they were doing enough right to make them a threat to Ireland. As it turned out, their only threat was to the position of their coach.

There was never a better time to get Ireland: two captains out of the picture and a third, Rory Best, operating below 100 per cent with damaged ribs. He looked culpable for the two losses from Ireland's seven throws -- yet another day when the opposition went out of their way to limit Ireland's ration here (the Scots had 13 throws of which they lost two) -- but there wasn't much else wrong with the Ulster hooker.

He got his second try of the campaign, and must have put up with a lot of pain to contribute to Ireland's strong scrummaging performance. He wasn't the only man offering it up for the holy souls. Donnacha Ryan came into his first run-on Six Nations start under pressure to lead the lineout from an unfamiliar spot in the middle of the line. He got a bang on the shoulder early in the game and sucked it up in favour of not becoming another casualty.

His reward was the man of the match award, which might as easily have gone to Stephen Ferris, who was immense. Nobody would argue with Ryan getting the bubbly however. He is as honest as the day is long and he reminded Declan Kidney that he should have been trusted with a starting role earlier than this.

Elsewhere, Peter O'Mahony delivered in spades. Yet another player who falls somewhere between the prototypes for sixes and sevens, he had a physically imposing day, and along with Ferris gave the Scots no peace at the tackle area.

This was important, for they have the best possession stats of any team in the championship. Their game is predicated on long periods of continuity where -- at least this is the plan -- they open you up, having forced you to make a huge number of tackles. They had to make more tackles than they expected however, most of them after the break when they failed to score.

Another wooden spoon battle with Italy awaits them. Ireland meantime go to Twickenham fighting fatigue, but doing so with the well-being that comes with a 4-1 try scoreline and lots of good performances, from Jonny Sexton, who was five from six with shots on goal, to Rob Kearney at the back who had another storming game in the air and on the ground. He left the scene after what should have been a try-scoring pass to Keith Earls, so we'll see if there are injury follow-ups on that.

That incident summed up the day for Scotland. Having lost Nick De Luca in the warm-up, his replacement Max Evans was binned for clutching at Earls, just after the Ireland centre had grubbered over the line. Earls extracted every drop from the incident and Evans got the bin. Coincidentally the man he replaced had suffered the same fate against Wales for a late tackle on Jonathan Davies. By comparison Evans's action could hardly be classed as petting.

They looked thoroughly demoralised at that point, and suffered a bit more when replacement Fergus McFadden got over with the game almost up. So having started with possession and territory and six points to show from it, through penalties from Greig Laidlaw, they ended up getting beaten out the gate.

It was ominous for them how easily Ireland wiped out their lead. One visit to the Scotland 22, a sweetly executed lineout move, and Best was over for Sexton to nail the kick with an in-swinger that made it 7-6 on 13 minutes.

By half-time Ireland had three tries on the board and were 22-14 in front. You felt that every time Ireland got into the Scots' 22 they were going to score. Not even against Italy could Declan Kidney's side have felt that way. Perhaps this explained why, after 34 minutes, with his team leading by a point, Jamie Heaslip tapped and went with a penalty 35 metres out and head-on to the posts.

What looked like a crazy decision was rendered something else when Eoin Reddan scuttled over half a minute later for what was Ireland's second try, having made bad ball good, as so often is the case against highly structured defences. The high point of the half for the away team was a great score by Richie Gray -- a marvellous rugby player -- when he bounced Reddan and dummied Kearney.

That came on 37 minutes and reduced the gap to three points, but as in Cardiff they clocked off in the last few minutes before the break. The beneficiary this time was Andrew Trimble after Kearney had ignored an overlap with Tommy Bowe, with the winger chasing what would have been a record-equalling sixth try in a championship campaign.

Bowe lost out again after the break when he had a referral to the TMO rejected after he wrestled a score against Graeme Morrison. Trimble meanwhile was blessed to come off okay in a head collision that knocked out Lee Jones, who recovered well after the game.

That incident stopped play for a fair while but there was no change in direction when it resumed. It took Ireland until the 72nd minute before Sexton pushed them further ahead with a great strike, and then McFadden rounded it off after Kidney had cleared the bench. They will go to Twickenham probably with Sean O'Brien fit again, and definitely feeling good about themselves.

Ireland: R Kearney (F McFadden 73); T Bowe, K Earls, G D'Arcy (R O'Gara 54), A Trimble; J Sexton, E Reddan (Y O'Leary 54); C Healy (T Court 78), R Best (S Cronin 54), M Ross, D O'Callaghan (M McCarthy 78), D Ryan, S Ferris, J Heaslip, P O'Mahony (S Jennings 62).

Scotland: S Hogg; L Jones (M Scott 62), M Evans (yc 73), G Morrison, S Lamont; G Laidlaw (R Jackson 56), M Blair (C Cusiter 50); A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross (E Murray 47), R Gray, J Hamilton, J Barclay, D Denton, R Rennie (R Vernon 59).

Referee: C Pollock (NZ)

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