SUCCESS at last for Bryan Redpath’s young Scotland team, and no little relief as well that things finally clicked in both attack and defence to secure this victory over an Ireland side which came into the match as clear favourites but lacked the intensity required to succeed at this level.
Having flattered to deceive during their opening three matches in his tournament, the pressure was really beginning to build on the young Scots, with the threat of relegation out of this competition into the World Rugby U20 Trophy a growing concern. That would mean playing against the likes Uruguay, Hong Kong and Namibia next summer, as opposed the big beasts of New Zealand, South Africa, England and so on.
Scotland are now free of that shadow, and will play Georgia in their final match – the 9th-10th place play-off – on Sunday. It is not where they had hoped to be at the start of the Championship, but they’ll take it. The really important measure of this competition is how the players, both individually and as a unit, have developed – the answer based on this performance and result is that it has been a success.
Scotland’s defence was tight, their set-piece stacked up for the most part, they varied their attack well to find ways of getting their dangerous strike runners into the game, and they hunted as a pack right across the park. Crucially, they kept their focus for the full 80 minutes, meaning that they were able to really build pressure rather than let their good work slip through careless errors and naïve decision-making.
Righting a few wrongs
Ireland had already beaten Scotland twice at this level this year – narrowly in the Six Nations and heavily in a warm-up match a few weeks before that start of this tournament – but they were a distinct second best in this encounter. They had their moments and fielded some useful players such as full-back Michael Silvester, but their badly malfunctioning line-out – returning a paltry seven possessions from 14 throws – was crucial in their failure to build up any sort of head of steam.
Scotland drew first blood through a Charlie Chapman penalty, but Ireland were actually the dominant force during the opening quarter, and soon took the lead when stand-off Harry Byrne muscled past Kyle Rowe and over the line. Byrne added the conversion, and then created his team’s second score when he threaded a grubber kick through Scotland’s defensive line and into the in-goal area for Peter Sylvester to touch down.
The Scots bounced back with two tries for tight-head prop Finlay Richardson, the first a product of some good driving play from number eight Devante Onojaife, and the second thanks to the ball-carrying of hooker Robbie Smith and stand-off Callum McLelland.
With Irish scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan in the cooler for a no-arms tackle on Smith during the lead-up to that second try, Scotland continued to grow in confidence, and when slick hands put Logan Trotter into space on the right, the Stirling County winger didn’t need a second invite to sniff out the line. Chapman nailed the touchline conversion to give Scotland a ten-point lead, before Byrne slotted a penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 24-17 at the turnaround.
The Keith Russell Affair:
Back with intensity
Scotland looked lively at the start of the second-half with Rowe stretching legs up the right wing before being pulled back for a foot in touch, then Guy Graham mounted a lung-busting charge from halfway to score under the posts.
Trotter got back in on the act, setting off on a weaving run which took play from his own 22 to deep inside opposition territory, and when he was eventually closed down Stafford McDowall did well to secure the recycle, which allowed the ball to be ferried across to the opposite touchline. McLelland instinctively delayed his pass until just the right moment before releasing Ross Dunbar, and Rowe was on the replacement loose-head’s shoulder to finish the move off.
Ireland grasped a lifeline when when they engineered an overlap on the left off a five-yard scrum for Silvester to send Tommy O’Brien in for a try in the corner, and Conor Dean slotted the conversion make it a two score game; but their faint hopes of getting back into this match were extinguished when Onojaife rumbled over from close range and Chapman converted again to extend Scotland’s lead to 21 points with 11 minutes to go.
With captain Caelan Doris in the sin-bin for killing the ball on the deck, there was no way back for the men in green. They did manage a consolation score through industrious replacement second-row Jack Daly, and Rowe was sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away, but the Scots already had this game put to bed.
“We worked really hard on our support lines during the week because we felt we left a few tries out there against the other teams, so we’re pleased that paid off. This was a pressure game and now it is out of the way we can look forward to going out in our next game and really enjoy going for a high finish,” said Scotland captain Stafford McDowall.
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Scotland: P Dewhirst; L Trotter, C Hutchison (F Strachan 79), S McDowall, K Rowe; C McLelland (R Thompson 73), C Chapman; S Grahamslaw (R Dunbar 52), R Smith (F Scott 52), F Richardson (M Walker 73), J Hodgson (C Jupp 78), M Sykes, M Hughes (G Graham 11), R Darge, D Onojaife.
Ireland: M Silvester (T Roche 75); J Hume, S O’Brien, P Sylvester, T O’Brien; H Byrne, H O’Sullivan (J Stewart 62); J Duggan (B O’Connor 49) (J Wojtkowicz 73), D Barron (D Sheehan 49), J Byrne (C Dean 57) , M Dalton (C Ryan 57), J Dunne, J Dunleavy, M Agnew (J Daly 59), C Doris.
Scotland: Tries: Richardson 2, Trotter, Graham, Rowe, Onojaife; Cons: Chapman 6; Pen: Chapman.
Ireland: Tries: Byrne, Sylvester, O’Brien; Con: Byrne 2, Dean; Pen: Byrne.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 3-12; 3-14; 8-14; 10-14; 15-14; 17-14; 24-14; 24-17 (h-t) 29-17; 31-17; 36-17; 38-17; 38-22; 38-24; 43-24; 45-24.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Onojaife, Rowe
Ireland: O’Sullivan, Doris
Referee: E Seconds (South Africa)