STUART BATHGATE @ The DAM Health Stadium
A CLASSIC combination of inspiration and perspiration saw Scotland round off their Six Nations campaign on a high with a six-try victory over Wooden Spoon winners Ireland. Bryan Easson’s team had to dig in and work tirelessly in defence for long stretches of the game, but in the end they got on top of the visitors thanks to their pace and creativity out wide as well as sheer brute force up front.
Following the win over Italy a week earlier, it was the first time since 2006 that Scotland had won back-to-back games in the Championship. That 12-match losing run that only ended against the Italians feels like a long time ago now, and captain Rachel Malcolm – one of half a dozen different try-scorers – rightly celebrated the progress made by her team.
“We have stuck together through tough times and that is exactly what we did during that match,” the back-row forward said after a match watched by a record crowd for a home game of well over 4,000. “Ireland were phenomenal in that first half and put us under an incredible amount of pressure, but we stuck to what we were good at.
“The most positive thing about this performance is that in each of the games we have either had a pack that has worked or a back line that has worked. That is the first performance when we have put the two together.
“It was great to get the monkey off our back with the win over Italy after a string of losses. People have questioned whether we deserved to be in this tournament. We have shown in the last two weeks that we deserve to be here and not only that, we are here to compete. That performance gives us the best springboard to push on in future tournaments.”
Ireland took a fifth-minute lead when stand-off Dannah O’Brien chipped over a penalty from just outside the 22 after the home defence had offended. Scotland had hardly touched the ball up to that point, and appeared disconcerted by the speed and aggression with which their opponents had begun the game.
But calmness and patience had been the key to victory over Italy, and those qualities were again on display here as Scotland steadily edged their way back into the contest. Jade Konkel-Roberts had some impressive carries as the home pack began to pen Ireland back into their own 22. However, the defence held firm and were able to hold off that attack, and repeated the process midway through the half after a promising half-break by Scots winger Coreen Grant.
Ireland began to reassert themselves as an attacking force towards the half-hour mark, and for a moment looked like they had manufactured a scoring chance when a Mairi McDonald box kick was all too easily charged down. But Chloe Rollie won the race for the loose ball as it bobbled invitingly towards the home 22, and the danger was averted.
The visitors came a lot closer to scoring a minute later, but, after sending a penalty to touch, their driving maul was halted on the Scottish line. Scotland came almost as close five minutes before the break when scrum-half McDonald combined well with Malcolm, but the No 9 offended at the breakdown and Ireland were able to clear from the penalty.
Scotland were soon back on the attack, however, and at last turned pressure into points just as the clock reached the 40-minute mark. A lineout drive was stopped just short of the line in the right corner, but the ball was recycled infield, and centre Meryl Smith – later named player of the match – powered her away over from a few metres out despite the best efforts of three defenders to stop her.
Helen Nelson’s conversion attempt missed, but it was still a morale-boosting score for Scotland. For Ireland, conversely, the concern at the break had to be their inability to turn considerable pressure into more than those three very early points from the boot of O’Brien.
To give them their due, as the second half began the visitors showed no sign of being demoralised by the way in which they had lost the initiative just before the break. But Scotland had begun to play more confidently, and extended their lead with their first scoring chance of the half.
A penalty in midfield was sent to touch by Nelson, and from around 20m out the driving maul did its work. Lana Skeldon, the hooker who had scored two of her team’s five tries in the win over the Italians, executed coolly. Nelson again failed to convert, leaving her side only a full score in front.
The slender lead did not last long. Three times in quick succession Ireland were awarded penalties deep in Scots territory, and three times they sent the ball to touch. The defence did its job on the first two occasions, but the pressure told at last, and at the third time of asking Ireland captain Nicola Fryday finished off. O’Brien converted, and we were back all square at 10-10.
But this time it was Scotland’s turn to hit back quickly. A break by Smith took them deep into the Irish 22, and two phases later Leah Bartlett – who, like Skeldon, had got a brace a week earlier – claimed her team’s third try. Nelson was on target to restore her team’s seven-point advantage.
Then came the bonus-point try, and the best score of the night. Nothing looked on when Francesca McGhie received possession close to the left touchline and halfway, but the winger had different ideas as she outstripped the cover defence on the outside before cutting back inside and touching down unopposed. Nelson was on target again.
A touchdown by Malcolm in the closing minutes was chalked off by the TMO, but the captain was not to be denied, and barely 60 seconds later she forced her way over for her team’s fifth try, with Nelson once more converting.
Chloe Rollie added a sixth with the clock in the red. Nelson’s missed conversion ended the game and the Championship.
The result was enough to secure fourth place in the final table for Scotland, ahead of Italy as well as Ireland. Wales finished third thanks to a 36-10 victory over Italy in Parma, while England claimed a fifth consecutive title with a 38-33 win at home to runners-up France. That match at Twickenham was played in front of a crowd of 58,498 – a world record for a women’s game.
Scotland: C Rollie; C Grant, E Orr, M Smith (B Blacklock 76), F McGhie (E Musgrove 76); H Nelson, M McDonald (C Mattinson 56); L Bartlett (A Young 76), L Skeldon (J Rettie 76), C Belisle (E Clarke 76), J Konkel-Roberts, L McMillan (E Donaldson 71), R Malcolm (capt), R McLachlan (E Sinclair 71), E Gallagher.
Ireland: L Delany; A Doyle (M Deely 69), A Dalton, V Irwin (A McGann 51), N Behan; D O’Brien, M Scuffil-McCabe (A Hughes 59); L Djougang (K Buggy 78), N Jones (C Nielson 78), C Haney (S McGrath 68), N Fryday (capt), S Monaghan, B Hogan (H O’Connor 65), G Moore (D Wall 16), D Nic a Bhaird.
Referee: Sara Cox (England).
Scotland: Tries: Smith (40mins), Skeldon (48), Bartlett (58), McGhie (65), Malcolm (75), Rollie (80). Cons: Nelson 3.
Ireland: Try: Fryday (54). Con: O’Brien. Pen: O’Brien (5).
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3, 5-3 half-time, 10-3, 10-8, 10-10, 15-10, 17-10, 22-10, 24-10, 29-10, 31-10, 36-10.
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That second-half in particular was a tremendous watch, the accuracy and cohesion in both attack and defence was really excellent. It’s really exciting to see so many young players establishing themselves in the team (such as Gallagher, Smith and McGhie) and really grasping the nettle.
Great result. Hope it gives the squad the confidence to kick on from here.
Great result. Good to see them turning things around.
I give up !
Rightly so – with all your nits so prominently on display, at your own (demented?) hand.
Sorry, “learn” a lot. No doubt the ntpickers will surface from the swamp.
Well done ladies. After the disappontments of the Wales, England and France games, morale could have plummeted. To achieve the nailbiting win against Italy and then tough it out against Ireland before going for an emphatic win shows true grit, team spirit, determination and a ruthless bloody minded streak. Fantastic.
Edinburgh could do with you and mearn a lot.
Sounds like great progress has been made this season.
Brilliant 2nd half performance from the ladies. Really picked up the tempo and had Ireland on the rack for the last 20. What a great try from McGhie- she looked lightening when given some space. Some great performances in the forwards as well and great to see a record crown at the DAM really enjoying themselves.
Well I did watch the game and it was an excellent performance, really good to see the team doing so well over the last 2 games … this one just exerting pressure through superb defence and squeezed until Ireland cracked.
Hopefully onward and upward from here.
Haven’t been watching but obvious that the quality is increasing leaps and bounds year on year. Good crowd there, hopefully a moment to cherish for the squad. Onwards and upwards.
Absolutely brilliant and such a confidence booster. McGhie’s try was stunning!