THE sending-off of openside flanker Harri Morris left Scotland under-powered for all but 30 seconds of the second half, and Ireland took full advantage to get their Under-20s Six Nations campaign off to a flying start.
The final score-line does not make for pretty reading from a Scottish perspective, but they should take encouragement from the fact that they were just about the better team for most of the first half, and also from the resilience they showed in that second period to keep it respectable. Over the course of the whole match, Scotland made 181 tackles to Ireland’s 107, which gives an indication of how deep Sean Lineen’s boys had to dig in.
Given how little competitive rugby most of these players have had during the last 15 months, both sides should be commended for producing such a high-quality match. The condensed format of this year’s championship means that there is now just six full days to recover, review and get ready to go again. The Scots face England next Friday, which will be another major test of ability and character.
Ireland got off to a flyer when Oisin McCormack hit a great line to get put his team in the strike zone before flanking partner Alex Soroka eventually rumbled over several phases later, which set up a fairly straight forward conversion for James Humphreys – son of former Ulster and Ireland great David – to make it 7-0 with less than three minutes played.
It was an ominous start, but Scotland held their resolve and managed to square it at the end of the first quarter when stand-off Cameron Scott laced a neat grubber through Ireland’s aggressive defence for inside-centre Elliot Gourlay to gather and touch down in one smooth movement.
As the half wore on, Scotland looked increasingly comfortable and began to dominate possession. No8 Ben Muncaster was ferocious with ball in hand, while the half-back partnership of Murray Redpath and Scott pulled the strings masterfully.
But they suffered a sucker punch on 35 minutes when a flat Irish pass rebounded forward off full-back Jamie Osborne’s head and Scotland’s Ollie Melville failed to tidy up. McCormack hacked over the try-line and Scottish wing Michael Gray tugged the Irish flanker back as he dived in for the try. It went to the TMO but the outcome of a yellow card for Gray and a penalty try for Ireland was inevitable.
Melville almost made amends almost straight from the restart when he chased his own kick brilliantly, charged down Conor McKee’s clearance, and then wrestled Osborne over his own line to forced a scrum-five for Muncaster to mount another impressive assault from the base, but a knock-on at the next phase let Ireland off the hook.
clearance and then
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Scotland will have been frustrated but not discouraged to be seven points down at the break, but the second half got off to a disastrous start when Morris clattered into Osborne and upturned the Irish full-back as he rose to collect a high ball. It didn’t look malicious but was dangerous, and it was fortunate that the Irishman wasn’t badly hurt. There was no real complaints about the colour of the card, even if it was a shame that it transformed what was shaping up to be a tantalising contest into an exercise of damage limitation for Scotland.
Gray was still in the sin-bin at this point, and Ireland immediately capitalised on their two-man advantage by kicking to the corner and then powering over the line, with tight-head prop Sam Illo getting the downward pressure. At least Melville managed to charge-down the conversion, but a long 40 minutes was in store for the boys in blue.
With Ireland’s pack increasingly dominant, under-pressure Scotland struggled to escape their own 22, and it is to their enormous credit that they dug deep defensively to keep Ireland at bay until the 55th minute when captain and Alex Kendellen grounded the ball for the bonus-point try following another powerful line-out drive.
Christian Townsend came off the bench on the hour mark but didn’t get an opportunity to make his mark on the match before Shane Jennings cruised down the outside centre channel to score try number five for Ireland.
Replacement flanker Rhys Tait was heavily involved two or three times as Scotland mounted a brave revival with just under 15 minutes to go, but they couldn’t find a way through, and when they surrendered a holding on penalty, Ireland went the length of the field. It looked like Jennings had claimed his second try by the TMO revealed that he had knocked the ball forward as he dived on his own hack ahead.
Ireland finished with a flourish with Jennings and man-of-the-match Kendellen both involved before Osborne stretched over the line.
Scotland: O Melville; F Callaghan (R Tait 45), S King, E Groulay, M Gray; C Scott (C Townsend 60), M Redpath (E McVicker 47); C Lamberton (M Jones 51), P Harrison (J Drummond 51), O Frostick (G Breese 45), M Williamson, A Samuel (E Ferrie 63), A Smeaton (O Leatherbarrow 61), H Morris B Muncaster.
Ireland: J Osborne; B Moxham, S Jennings, C Forde, J O’Connor (C Cosgrave 55); J Humphreys (T Corkery 28), C McKee (W Reilly 62); T Lasisi (J Boyle 58), R Loughnane (E de Buitlear 61), S Illo, M Morrissey, H Sheridan, A Soroka (R Crothers 46), O McCormack, A Kendellen.
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Scotland: Tries: Gourlay; Con: Scott.
Ireland: Tries: Soroka, Penalty Try, Illo, Kendellen, Jennings, Osborne; Cons: Humphreys, Corkery 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 7-14 (h-t); 7-19; 7-24; 7-29; 7-31, 7-36; 7-38.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Gray (35mins)
Red cards –
Scotland: Morris (41mins)