A TRY from replacement winger Finlay Callaghan in the eighth minute of injury-time, followed by a tricky conversion from wide on the right by Harry Paterson, secured a sensational victory for Scotland in their final match of the U18 Six Nations Festival in Gloucester this [Sunday] lunchtime. It was a suitably dramatic conclusion to a contest full of thrilling twists and breath-taking turns, in which both sides made their fair share of mistakes but ultimately played with an awe-inspiring level of courage and conviction to produce a spectacle which will live long in the memory on those lucky enough to have witnessed it.
Scotland appeared to have the game won after Cameron Furley picked out a loose pass from Irish stand-off Nathan Doak and rampaged home from halfway to put his team into a 35-33 lead with 10 minutes to go. Initially, the boys in blue defended their advantage fairly comfortably, but as the clock ticked down and nerves began to jangle they got impetuous. Jamie Dobie twice kicked the ball away during the final few minutes to gift Ireland opportunities to rescue the win – and on the second of those occasions Scotland paid the price, when powerful surges from Reuben Crothers and Oisin McCormack sent Conor McKee in for the try which seemed to clinch it for the Emerald Isle.
But now it was Ireland’s turn to jitter. With the referee advising that there was only nine seconds left to play, they handed Scotland a penalty, which was kicked to the corner. Ireland gave away three more penalties as they tried to halt the Scottish drive, and eventually lost Crothers to the sin-bin. Immediately after that, replacement Scotland hooker James Johnstone was sacked just short of the line, but he managed to recycle and Dobie switched play back to the blindside for Callaghan to scamper over unchallenged, and the GHK man even had the presence of mind to carry the ball 10 yards infield before touching down, which made things slightly easier for the cool-as-ice Paterson to nail the vital extra points.
“The guys’ work-rate in that heat [23C] was phenomenal,” said victorious head coach Ross Miller. “The squad has come together well over the last two to three months, and the few challenges we have faced this last week against Italy and Wales has really tightened the group up. There is key learnings to take away from that performance but the character and effort was excellent.
“It is no coincidence that the Irish coaching team are all from the Leinster academy, so there is a trend in the way that they play, and they are a very good team. But it was about the belief of our players, sticking to their processes and working hard to task. There was a relentlessness around our effort.
“All the players have developed individually over this period, but there are some real success stories in there, especially around front-row and Cole Lamberton and Jamie Drummond at prop – they have really kicked on through the programme. It has been a tough learning experience for Alex Harley at 10 and he’s really put his hand up and progressed as a player.”
As was the case in their two previous outings during this series, Scotland’s malfunctioning line-out was once again a big problem, especially earlier on. And it was their third overthrow in the first 11 minutes which facilitated Ireland’s opening try, with green hooker Tom Stewart gobbling up the ball at the tail and making some good yards before releasing the back-line. Karl Martin, Harry O’Riordan, Chris Cosgrave and Ben Murphy all added impetus, before O’Riordan reappeared on the scene to dot down under the posts.
Ireland continued to dominate possession and extended their lead when their dominant scrum earned a penalty in front of the posts that Cosgrave had no problem turning into three points.
Scotland struck back when they drove an uncontested close-range line-out over the whitewash and skipper for the day Scott Clelland got the ball down, but Ireland were soon back on top.
Cosgrave sent home his second penalty of the match after Scotland No 8 Ben Muncaster was guilty of a high tackle on opposite number Alex Kendellen. Then, with two minutes left in the half, Ireland’s powerful driving play set up a ruck right in front of Scotland’s posts and a brilliant clear-out by Stewart opened up a yawning gap for the industrious Alex Soroka to pick up and dive over.
But Scotland finished the half in excellent style with a well-worked move off the back of the scrum which saw Muncaster, scrum-half Cameron Scott and inside-centre Scott King combining to send outside-centre Matt Currie through the eye of a needle, with King supporting on the inside to finish the try off.
Scotland started the second half as they finished the first, spending several minutes camped inside Ireland’s 22, and winning two kickable penalties which they boldly kicked to the corner. They eventually got their reward when Clelland’s tip-on to Muncaster opened up the narrowest chinks in Ireland’s defence and the big back-rower – who is on the books at Leicester Tigers – took full advantage by powering over Doak on his way to the line.
Ireland struck back when Dobie fluffed a box-kick clearance and O’Riordan swatted off King and Paterson on a 25-yard dash to the line.
Unperturbed, Scotland responded in quick-style when tight-head prop Dan Gamble hit a short line like a runaway express train to pierce Ireland’s generally excellent first-up defence, before feeding Muncaster, who did well to juggle then collect the tricky pass on his way to the line. That score edged Scotland into a narrow 28-27 lead.
It had been frantic stuff, but Ireland now slowed things down to good effect, with a Doak drop-goal and a third Cosgrave penalty edging them back into the driving seat, only for Furley to strike back with his interception try, which lit the blue touch paper on that crazy climax.
Scotland: Nathan Sweeney (Loretto School)); Harry Paterson (Fettes College), Matt Currie (Merchiston Castle School), Scott King (Heriot’s), Cameron Furley (Saracens Academy/St Albans School); Alex Harley (George Watson’s College), Cameron Scott (Preston Lodge); Cole Lamberton (The Royal High School), Scott Clelland (Ayr), Dan Gamble (Merchiston Castle School), Alex Samuel (Madras/St Leonards), Jamie Campbell (Kelvinside Academy), Gregor Brown (Robert Gordon’s College), Harri Morris (George Watson’s College), Ben Muncaster (Rugby School/Leicester Tigers). Subs: James Johnstone (Preston Lodge/Preston Lodge High School), Ben Mace (Stirling County), Jamie Drummond (Marr), Struan Whittaker (Edinburgh Accies), Rory Jackson (Kelvinside Academy), Jamie Dobie (Merchiston Castle School), Joseph Strain (Dumfries Saints), Finlay Callaghan (GHK), Josh King (Queen Victoria School/Stirling County), Jordan Craig (Hamilton Bulls), Tom Jones (Bristol Bears/SGS Filton).
Ireland: Chris Cosgrave (St. Michael’s College/Leinster); Diarmuid Kilcommins (Coláiste Bhaile Chláir/Corinthians RFC/Connacht), Harry O’Riordan (CBC Cork/Munster), Karl Martin (St. Mary’s School Drogheda/Boyne RFC/Leinster), Aaron Leahy (CBC Cork/Munster); Nathan Doak (Wallace High School/Ulster), Ben Murphy (Presentation College Bray/Leinster); Jack Boyle St. Michael’s College/Leinster), Tom Stewart (Belfast Royal Academy/Ulster), Mark Donnelly (CBC Cork/Munster), Alex Soroka (Belvedere College/Leinster), Darragh Murray (Colaiste Chiaráin/Buccaneers RFC/Connacht), Will Hickey (St. Michael’s College/Leinster), Diarmuid McCormack (Clongowes Wood College/Connacht), Alex Kendellen (PBC Cork/Munster). Subs: Lee Barron (St. Michael’s College/Leinster), George Saunderson (Sullivan Upper School/Ulster), Oscar Egan (Coleraine Grammar School/Ulster), Reuben Crothers (Wallace High School/Ulster), Oisin McCormack (Garbally College/Connacht), Donnacha Byrne (Summerhill College/Sligo RFC/Connacht), Conor McKee (Sullivan Upper School/Ulster), Cian Whooley (CBC Cork/Munster), Shane Jennings (Garbally College/Connacht), Jamie Osborne (Naas CBC/Naas RFC/Leinster), Ben Carson (Wallace High School/Ulster).
Scotland: Try: Clelland, King, Muncaster 2, Furley, Callaghan; Con: Paterson 6.
Ireland: Try: O’Riordan 2, Soroka, McKee; Con: Cosgrave 4; Pen: Cosgrave 3; DG: Doak.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10; 7-13; 7-18; 7-20; 12-20; 14-20 (h-t) 19-20; 21-20; 21-25; 21-27; 26-27; 28-27; 28-30; 28-33; 33-33; 35-33; 35-38; 35-40; 40-40; 42-40.
Yellow cards –