Scotland Club XV 17
Ireland Club XV 39
ALAN LORIMER @ Netherdale
SCOTT WIGHT’S Scotland team have a big task ahead of them in Dublin next week if they are to have any chance of securing the Dalriada Cup, played over two legs and decided on aggregate points.
In this first-leg clash, the Scots had a shaky start but then showed what can be achieved when they scored a couple of second-half tries, only for the Irish to pull away in the last ten minutes with 17 late points which gave the scoreline a complexion which did not reflect the game.
For Scotland, unable to select Super6 players, it was always going to be difficult stepping up several levels from what is now a different standard of Premiership. To the home team’s credit, they produced some excellent rugby, scoring three very good tries in a performance which was blighted in the first quarter by costly lapses of concentration in defence.
Still there was much to savour in the Scots’ display and one suspects that with more time to prepare and more exposure to the higher level of rugby, success would follow.
“They were very clinical but we had lapses in defence,” said Scotland skipper Fergus Scott. “We will go over to Dublin next week having benefitted from this experience.”
Wight shrugged off suggestions that the boys at his disposal were not used to this level of rugby. “They knew what was coming but it took 40 minutes to realise what it was about, which was hugely frustrating,” he said.
“The coaching team were not happy with the first half performance so we asked for a huge reaction. We got back to within five points of Ireland and at that point we could have won the game. Unfortunately we made a few mistakes in scoring positions.
“The players have taken the defeat on the chin. The reality is that we had only three training sessions and that doesn’t help. Next week we have to retain ball better and be quicker to the breakdown. We gave away ball all too easily. We put a huge amount of effort into defending but when we did win ball we gave it back to them.
“We showed, in the second half, that when you retain ball you can score points.”
It was Ireland who struck first and they did so with panache from a clean break off set-piece ball by stand-off James Taylor and perfect support from centre Brian Fitzgerald, who had the pace to reach the line before the Scottish defence could close in. Taylor then converted for a 7-0 lead.
In something of a repeat score, but this time from broken play, No 8 Paul Derham escaped from the Scotland defence to send scrum-half Aran Hehir sprinting to the line, Taylor again converting.
Taylor then extended his side’s lead with a penalty goal for a 17-0 lead to which Scotland reacted positively. And they did so with some style. From a set scrum, Ewan MacDougall broke clear, scrum-half Gregor Christie provided support, and when the ball was whipped out to the fast men Grant Mollison gave Scott Bickerstaff a clear run in for an unconverted try.
Scotland’s hopes of garnering further first-half points were quickly dashed when, from a five-metre line-out, Ireland set up a maul and then went through three phases before burly loose-head Conor Maguire barrelled over for a try, to leave Ireland in a commanding 22-5 position going into the break.
The Scots looked much more dynamic at the beginning of the second half and were rewarded for much better ball retention with a try by Colin Sturgeon after the Scotland forwards had made the hard yards.
Ireland, now on the back foot, were weakened by the loss of replacement prop JP Phelan to the sin-bin. Shortly after his departure, Scotland made further inroads into the Irish lead when stand-off Aaron McColm again judged his pass perfectly to give Scott Bickerstaff his second try of the night. This time McColm added the conversion points to bring his side within five points of Ireland.
It looked as though Scotland might overtake Ireland only for the visitors’ defence to stand firm each time the hosts tried to batter their way over the line. Then, going into the final ten minutes, Ireland’s late revival earned the men in green a penalty, converted into points by replacement stand-off Gerry Hurley.
Scotland were now chasing the game and in doing so exposed themselves to further Ireland scores, the first from full-back Jamie Heuston doing the work of a prop forward by crashing over from close range for a try under the posts converted by Hurley, and the second in injury time replacement wing Matthew Byrne converted by Hurley for a scoreline that flattered the visitors.
Scotland Club XV: G Mollison; S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff, C Sturgeon, C Young; A McColm, G Christie; S Muir, F Scott, C Henderson, M Vernel, G Law, J Sole, W Nelson, E MacDougall. Subs: M Carryer, W Farquhar, G Strain, R Cessford, N Coe, P Boyer, A Mitchell, S Hamilton.
Ireland Club XV: J Heuston; C Hogan, P Ryan, B Fitzgerald, J Ringrose; J Taylor, A Hehir; C Maguire, J Sutton, A Keating, B Hayes, A Kennedy, M Melia, J Foley, P Derham. Subs: A Clarkin, C Barrett, JP Phelan, P Claffey, R Murphy, G Hurley, N Kenneally ,M Byrne.
Referee: Ben Breakspear (Wales)
Scotland: Tries S Bickerstaff 2, Sturgeon; Con: McColm.
Ireland: Tries: Fitzgerald, Hehir, Maguire, Heuston, Byrne; Cons: Taylor 2, Hurley 2; Pens: Taylor, Hurley.
Scoring Sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 0-17; 5-17; 5-22 (h-t) 10-22; 15-22; 17-22; 17-25; 17-30; 17-32; 17-37; 17-39.
Yellow cards –
Ireland: Phelan, Derham
Man of the Match: Livewire Irish scrum-half Aran Hehir was a constant threat in the first half and helped to push his side into a healthy 17-0 lead before the first quarter was over.
Talking point: Without the strength of the players who are now in Super6, it was always going to a challenge for Scotland. But credit must go to the 23 players who wore the dark blue jersey even if the scoreline cruelly misrepresents their performance on the field. The 22 points difference in the scores was essentially all about the Scots adjusting to a higher level of rugby. Next weekend in Dublin will be real test of how much has been learned from the Netherdale experience