Dubai: Ireland lost their Six Nations game against Scotland as much as their opponents won it. Rarely has a Celtic clash been so dominated by the Irish and yielded so little. The pitch seemed to be tilted like the slopes of Ben Nevis down towards the Scottish half, with just enough flat ground for the Scots to stand upright and build a wall of muscular resistance.
The miraculous 12-8 victory for Scotland in Edinburgh on Sunday — giving them their first back-to-back Six Nations wins since 1999 — breathes new life into their campaign and heaps more misery and scrutiny on under-fire Irish coach Declan Kidney.
This low-scoring but nonetheless compelling Gaelic tryst centred on Ireland’s inability to capitalise on one of the most unequal affairs the Six Nations has ever bred.
Even without eight of their preferred starting XV through injury, Ireland set-up base camp in Scotland’s half for 71 per cent of the match, dominated territory (77 per cent) and made all the attacking running. But ultimately the Emerald Isle rued their litany of missed opportunities. Although take nothing away from Scotland though, their defensive effort was heroic at times and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw’s boot was on target 100 per cent of the time, scoring all 12 of Scotland’s points from an unerring right boot.
Having routed Italy in a four-try victory in their last jaunt at Murrayfield, Scotland’s gritty win against their Celtic rivals revealed an impressive tenacity.
Scottish interim head coach Scott Johnson admitted his side probably shouldn’t have won, but praised the character they showed. “I’ve got to be honest, that was not a game we should have won. But we showed great spirit and great heart — and I love a team which shows great spirit and great heart,” he said.
Johnson heaped praised on an “incredible” defensive effort from his bravehearts, who made 128 tackles over the 80 minutes compared to Ireland’s 44 — but refused to consider the possibility that Scotland are now in the running for the championship.
“We’re still in the tournament, we are in it up to our ears,” he said. “[It’s] great for the fans and the team but let’s not get carried away.”
Declan Kidney’s omission of Ronan O’Gara, with all his 127 caps and 1,077 points, in favour of 21-year-old debutant Paddy Jackson conjured a whirlwind of criticism in Irish press and rugby circles. And the 53-year-old coach’s selection was key to the outcome of the Six Nations clash in Edinburgh.
Jackson missed eight points from the boot that O’Gara may well have converted. But the Ulster fly-half looked good on the front foot, holding the attention of the Scottish defence and combined well with club team-mate Luke Marshall, who impressed throughout.
But the real fly-half debate was capped when O’Gara, having deputised for Jackson on 65 minutes, rashly decided to try and poke the ball cross-field to his back line but simply presented the ball to Scot winger Tim Visser, who earned a penalty that gave Scotland a four-point lead.
“It is too easy to put it down to the place kicking. Paddy had a big influence in the line breaks — that is why we picked him. We knew he would bring that to our game,” Kidney said. “Unfortunately some of the place kicking went astray but it was more the other opportunities which cost us.”