DAVID BARNES @ Netherdale
A FRUSTRATING afternoon for Scotland’s top club players, who struggled to build momentum against a powerful and well-drilled opposition. They were within a converted try as the game moved into the final ten minutes, but the truth is that they had never really put their guests under enough pressure during the previous disjointed 70-minutes to really look like genuine contenders.
“At this level you only get a few opportunities in a match and if you don’t take them they are gone,” reflected Scotland head coach Rob Chrystie. “So, frustrating is a good word for it, because when we review the game we are going to see that there were some clear opportunities that we didn’t take full advantage of. We just need to be a little bit more connected and if we can do that we will be more successful.
“You’ve got to give credit to Ireland, they are very good in that midfield – both their centres have played pro rugby and are bloody good players,” he added. “So, while we were perhaps a bit hesitant at times, that comes as a result of pressure and of being tired.”
Scotland are the current holders of the Dalriada Cup, which is awarded for the team with the best aggregate score over two legs. They now have a fair amount of ground to make up in Dublin next Friday night, but Chrystie insisted it is within their power to get the 14+ point win they need.
“There is plenty there to go on with and be confident that if we get it right then we can go across there and come back with the trophy,” he said.
Chrystie was tight-lipped on whether some of the experienced character who were missing from this game – such as midfielder Craig Jackson and full-back Fraser Thomson – will come back into contention, choosing to focus instead on the potential of the younger players in the squad.
“There are a few boys missing but that creates opportunities for others,” he explained. “You’ve got some young guys coming in like Paddy Dewhirst, Kyle Rowe and Patrick Anderson, who will be a lot better for that experience. It is good that they are getting exposed to this type of rugby, and Ireland have brought across a more of a gnarly team this year – it is pretty clear that they have gone for a bit of size – so we’ll take that as a complement.”
“It ultimately came down to mistakes,” he concluded. “When we had the ball we actually looked alright, and when we got over the halfway line they gave away penalties so that gives you field position, but it is how you get over the halfway line.
“We need to focus on the things we can affect. For whatever the reason, the line-out wasn’t quite as strong as it needed to be, and your set-piece is crucial at this level, so we need to be stronger in that area. And when we have got ball in hand we have to be more accurate, put them under more pressure and take our opportunities.”
Ireland made all the early running and quickly stretched into a 6-0 lead through two Aiden Moynihan penalties, both from almost directly in-front of the posts, the first for an offside and the second for a high tackle.
The home team’s attempts to battle their way into the contest were not helped by three out of the first four line-outs misfiring, which will have been at least partly due to late changes at hooker and in the second-row, with Michael Liness replacing the injured Ross Graham (bursitis on knee) in the number two jersey, and Ruaridh Leishman swapping into the engine-room for Tommy Spinks (who dropped to the bench because he couldn’t get away from work in time to take a full part in the warm-up).
Despite their touchline woes, Scotland did manage to build enough phases to earn a penalty in midfield which Gregor Hunter sent home from 45-yards to narrow the gap to three points with 15 minutes played.
A second tricky shot at goal from Hunter five minutes later fell short, and it went from bad to worse for the stand-off when he was then harshly yellow-carded for making contact with an Irish head in a tackle, with Vivien Praderie, the rather whistle-happy French referee, taking no account of the fact that both players had slipped during the lead-up to the collision. Ireland went for the line-out and then drove the ball over, with second-row Conor Kindregan being given credit for the try.
Scotland did manage to pull back three points through a Dewhirst ruck penalty before they were restored to full strength, and suddenly they had a bit of fire in their bellies. Hamilton Burr and Leishman both stole line-outs, Burr and Steven Longwell had big tackles in the middle of the park, the latter also had a powerful charge off another disrupted line-out, and then Murdo MacAndrew sniped through a gap from the base of a ruck as the hosts pushed for a score which would really have swung the balance of this game – before an accidental offside stalled progress.
Ireland cleared from the scrum with a box-kick, which Scotland failed to deal with, and the half ended instead with the home team back on the defensive.
More of the same
Dewhirst sniffed out a gap at the start of the second-half and although his offload to Craig Gossman floated forward, it was an encouraging sign. But Scotland couldn’t sustain it, with another malfunctioning line-out being gobbled up by Ireland and it took an outstanding last-gasp tackle by Gossman on Jack Keating in the corner to prevent what looked like a certain score.
Gossman picked up a painful looking knee injury a few minutes later and was replaced by Anderson. Liness and Leishman also went off around this time, with Fergus Scott and Spinks taking their places, but there was no discernible improvement in Scotland’s line-out play.
Moynihan slotted his third penalty of the afternoon (awarded against a trailing Scotsman who took too long to get back onside) as the game edged towards the hour mark.
Another two substitutions – Andrew Simmers for MacAndrew at scrum-half and Iain Wilson for his Heriot’s clubmate Jack McLean at openside – briefly injected some impetus into Scotland’s play, and after Rob Kay sniffed out a gap at outside centre, they worked a couple of quick phases to really stretch Ireland’s defence for the first time, and ended up earning an offside penalty which Hunter turned into three more points.
But that was as good as it got for the hosts. Ireland elbowed their way back into the contest and after they were held up over the line once, the visitors finally dragged the game out of reach when number eight Luke Cahill burrowed over from close range.
Scotland: P Dewhirst; C Gossman (P Anderson 51), R Kay (S Edwards 74), R Nelson, K Rowe; G Hunter, M McAndrew (A Simmers 57); S Muir, R Graham (F Scott 49), S Longwell (S Cessford 70), H Burr, R Leishman (T Spinks 51), B Macpherson, J McLean (I Wilson 57), P McCallum.
Ireland: E Mills; D McEvoy, N Kenneally, M D’Arcy, J Keating (M Brown 49); A Moynihan (C Smith 68), J Poland (A Bennie 63); C Gleeson (T O’Reilly 49), L Cronin (J Sutton 49), I Prenderville (A Keating 56), B Hayes, C Kindregan (M Noone 63), M Melia (J O’Sullivan 56), L Cahill, J McSwiney.
Referee: V Praderie (France)
Scotland: Pen: Hunter 2, Dewhirst.
Ireland: Try: Kindregan, Cahill; Con: Moynihan, Brown; Pen: Moynihan 3.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3; 0-6; 3-6; 3-11; 3-13; 6-13 (h-t) 6-16; 9-16; 9-21; 9-23.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: We’ll pick a Scotsman, and given that the scrum was one of the big plus points for the home side, tight-head Steven Longwell gets the nod – and he also put himself around a bit in the loose.
Talking point: This game was supposed to be played at Myreside with a 7.30pm kick-off, but the pitch was frozen, and a call was made on Thursday morning to relocate it to the Borders and move the start time forward by four hours so as not to impinge in any way on the Scotland’s Under-20s match at the same venue in the evening. That is a real shame because, although this particular game was not a classic, the Club XV has become a big thing in the clubland calendar, but it ended up feeling like a bit of a sideshow on this occasion. Even a 5pm kick-off as opposed to 3.30pm would have helped.