WHATEVER other conclusions we can draw from this Scotland Under-20s cohort, and what their plight says about the health of the game in the country generally, nobody can question their tenacity. At 24-0 down with a man in the sin-bin after 16 minutes, it really did look like a cricket score was on the cards, but they dug deep to salvage some form of respectability.
Ireland undoubtedly took their foot off the gas, and the outcome was never really in doubt, but skipper Rhys Tait and his players can return home from this ‘Summer Series’ campaign in Italy with their heads held high (despite four heavy defeats on the bounce).
“When I was sitting up there after 15-20 minutes, I had my head in my hands,” admitted head coach Kenny Murray. “It was a really disappointing start, but the big thing I spoke to the boys about before the game was about having some character, showing some fight and staying together as a group – that was the three things we had to do to compete today – and I thought it was a great effort to come back and fight through that. But we’ve got to be better at not making so many individual errors, especially that early in the game.”
It looked like the team were still suffering collective hangover from their mauling by Georgia six days earlier during that traumatic first quarter, and Murray suggested that a late arrival at Stadio di Monigo in Treviso may also have been a contributing factor.
“There was a car accident outside the stadium so it was meant to take us 20 minutes to get there and it ended up being 50 minutes and we didn’t get here until less than hour before kick-off, which meant we were under a bit of pressure in the warm-up and just a bit flat,” he explained, before also expressing disappointment at the try awarded against his team straight from the restart after hooker Patrick Harrison had opened Scotland’s account on 20 minutes.
“They’re really strict on water breaks here, so after you score a try you are allowed to come to the touchline to get a drink, and the referee allowed them to restart the game before our boys got back on the pitch, which isn’t allowed but the TMO didn’t pick it up and their try was allowed to stand, ” he lamented. “So, ultimately, it was a 10-point game at the end which considering the poor start we had, it is a testament to the boys how they recovered.”
Ireland raced into the lead with just one minute 25 seconds on the clock when centre Daniel Hawkshaw collected Sam Prendergast‘s neat chip over the top and raced home, setting the tone for a whirlwind opening quarter which featured three more tries for the men in green through tight-head prop Scott Wilson, winger Aitzol King and Prendergast. The last of those scores came after Scotland flanker Gregor Hiddleston had been sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball five yard from his own line following a length of the park break from Prendergast.
Ireland were manufacturing quick ball at will and were playing smart, direct rugby. Scotland, meanwhile, were chasing shadows and falling off tackles when they did manage to get close to a green jersey. Any ball they did have to play with was slow and easily mopped up by their opponents.
However, as the game entered its second quarter, Murray’s men finally managed to get a foothold, with their first real period of pressure culminating inHarrison rumbling over at the end of a move which featured a brilliant backhanded offload from Gabe Jones to Duncan Munn just as he was bundled into touch. Euan Cunningham nailed the tricky conversion.
It took just Ireland less than eight seconds to bounce back, with Fionn Gibbons collecting the restart and charging home for a John Leslie-esque try as the Scots refuelled at the touchline, but thereafter there was a definite slowing of green momentum with Diarmuid Mangan being sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away at a ruck in front of his own posts a few minutes later.
Scotland opted for the scrum but Ollie Leatherbarrow knocked-on at the base so that attacking opportunity was lost. However, they kept plugging away and Keiran Clark‘s break down the left would certainly have led to a try had the full-back been able to gather his own chip ahead. Scotland’s perseverance eventually paid off when a penalty to the corner set up Harrison’s second try of the match, his fifth of the tournament, off a line-out drive, with Cunningham once again converting.
Scotland started the second half brightly and a high tackle by Andrew O’Mahony on Rhys Tait gave Cunningham the chance to kick deep into the corner. Alas, the Scots lacked the conviction to claim another try at this point, but they did pull three more points back a few minutes later when Cunningham fired a ruck penalty between the posts. That made it a 12 point game, which was astonishing given the tenor of the first 20 minutes.
But that’s as close as they got, with Mangan bursting over following a quick tap penalty on 53 minutes. However, Ireland could not recapture their early dominance, even after Munn was carded for playing the ball on the deck.
Ireland did score again on 68 minutes when replacement winger Shay McCarthy expertly collected Prendergast’s cross-field kick and dotted down, but Scotland responded in kind just a minute later when Leatherbarrow spun out of a tackle and battled over following a fine break by Andy Stirrat.
With so many replacements, 11 each side, it was inevitable that the game lost its shape ad rhythm during the final 10 minutes.
Ireland: P Campbell (R Malone 63); A King (S McCarthy 46), F Gibbons, D Hawkshaw, G Coomber (H West 54); S Prendergast, A O’Mahony (M Moloney 50); G Hadden (K Ryan 55, O Michel, 72), J Hanlon (J McCormick 54, D Rhys Hey 72), S Wilson (J Mawhinney 60), C Irvine ( R O’Sullivan 68), A McNamee, D Mangan, R Crothers, L McLoughlin (G Shaw 72).
Scotland: K Clark; K Johnston (T Glendinning 76), D Munn, A Stirrat, G Jones (R McKnight 56); E Cunningham, B Afshar (F Burgess 72); I Carmichael ( J Lascelles 50, A Rogers 72), P Harrison (D Hood 60), C Norrie (G Scougall 45), J Taylor (J Spurway 66), M Williamson, R Tait (L McConnell 50), G Hiddleston (T Brown 50), O Leatherbarrow (R Brown 72).
Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy)
Ireland: Tries: Hawkshaw, Wilson, King, Pendergast, Gibbons, Mangan, McCarthy; Cons: Pendergast 3.
Scotland: Try: Harrison 2, Leatherbarrow; Con: Cunningham 3; Pen: Cunningham.
Scoring sequence (Ireland first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 24-0; 24-5; 24-7; 29-7; 29-12; 29-14 (h-t) 29-17; 34-17; 39-17; 41-17; 41-22; 41-24.
Yellow cards –
Ireland: Mangan (26mins)
Scotland: Hiddleston (15mins), Munn (58mins)