SCOTLAND saved their most complete performance till last in the TikTok Six Nations, but it was still not enough to see them end their campaign with a victory. Six points ahead as the clock went into the red, Bryan Easson’s side had defended magnificently, but in the end the pressure told, with Ireland centre Enya Breen scoring and converting a try four minutes into stoppage time.
If Scotland had only themselves to blame for the earlier defeat by Wales in which they had let slip a 12-point lead, they could hardly be faulted for this loss, which sees them finish bottom of the Championship table having lost all five of their matches. After going in three points behind at the break, they played with intelligence and a lot of character to reclaim the lead through three Helen Nelson penalties. They had a lot of defending to do after that, and did much of it exceptionally well, but in the end were undone in the cruellest of fashions.
“It was probably our best defensive performance, and in parts of the second half our attack was outstanding,” captain Rachel Malcolm said. “Our set piece didn’t function particularly well tonight – it’s been a wee bit inconsistent across the Championship.
“But I can’t fault the heart and the commitment from minute one to minute 80 from the full squad. We’ve got a lot of time now until the World Cup and there are lots of areas we’re going to look to improve. We’ve got big ambitions for the World Cup and I think we’ve shown we can compete with every team in our pool – but we need to improve on lots of aspects of our game.
“There are definite grounds for optimism. You can’t coach heart and you can’t coach mindset and we’ve got it in absolute bags.”
Scotland got off to a morale-boosting start with a try after four minutes. A penalty was sent to touch deep in the home 22, and although the maul was initially held up on the line, they persisted patiently and eventually Evie Gallagher touched down. Helen Nelson’s conversion attempt was wide.
Ireland soon got into their stride, and a break by Breen momentarily threatened to create real danger. That move was snuffed out, but then, after Caity Mattinson strayed offside at a scrum, Hannah O’Connor opened the home team’s account with a penalty from 40 metres.
Ireland attacked with increased venom after getting off the mark, and they began to get the better of the battle at the breakdown and in the scrum. O’Connor had a chance to put her team in front when Scotland offended at the set piece, but this time her penalty was just off target.
The visitors regained some territorial advantage in the last ten minutes of the first half, but the Irish defence was up to the task of repelling them both in the loose and in the scrum, winning one against the head. Then, two minutes before the break, Ireland did go ahead, with hooker Neve Jones finishing off from a driving maul. Breen’s conversion attempt skimmed the outside of the post to leave the score 8-5 at the break.
The early stages of the second half were a lot more positive from a Scots point of view as the backs began to spread the ball wide. The defence was again up to the task at first, but with 50 minutes on the clock they conceded a penalty from which Nelson drew the scores level.
Just before the hour mark the Irish offended again, in front of their own posts this time, and Nelson made no mistake to make it 11-8. Another penalty two minutes later, for offside this time, allowed the centre to add another three points to her team’s tally.
Ireland had not been seen as an attacking force in the second half, but having fallen six points behind they began to play with renewed urgency. With a dozen minutes to play they were awarded a kickable penalty on the edge of the 22 but went for touch instead. They drove the lineout then had phase after phase of assault on the Scotland line, but eventually lost possession after some outstanding work from Sarah Bonar and Louise McMillan.
All that good work was almost undone when a charge down and a hack ahead presented Jones with a chance to score, but substitute Emma Orr got back just in time to touch down.
The last play saw Ireland send a penalty to touch, and after a clean lineout take then sustained pressure, Breen plunged over the line in the fourth minute of additional time. Breen took the conversion herself and made no mistake from just to the right of the posts.
Ireland: Tries: Jones, Breen. Con: Breen. Pen: O’Connor.
Scotland: Try: Gallagher. Pens: Nelson 3.
Scoring sequence (Ireland first): 0-5, 3-5, 8-5 half-time, 8-8, 8-11, 8-14, 13-14, 15-14.
Ireland: V Irwin; A Doyle, S Naoupu, E Breen, M Scuffil-McCabe; N Caughey (M Claffey 60), K Dane (A Hughes 76); L Djougang, N Jones, C Haney (K O’Dwyer 60), N Fryday (captain), S Monaghan, D Wall (M Og O’Leary 66), E McMahon (G Moore 66), H O’Connor.
Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, L Thomson, H Nelson, S Campbell (M Gaffney 58); S Law (E Orr 58), C Mattinson; M Wright (L Bartlett 63), L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, S Bonar, R Malcolm (captain), R McLachlan (L McMillan 63), E Gallagher.
Referee: M Cogger-Orr (New Zealand).