DAVID BARNES @ Broadwood Stadium
FOR the coach and captain of a team which had just dominated large chunks of a match only to come up agonisingly short in the final reckoning, Sean Lineen and Callum Hunter-Hill were both surprisingly buoyant last night.
“It was a game we could’ve won but we probably got the result we deserved because we lacked composure at key moments. They’re young lads and they’re learning,” said Lineen.
“I thought the boys produced a lot of opportunities, but we maybe panicked at key moments – there was four knock-ons in the opposition 22 from different players. Now, I know they are not trying to knock-on and that they are just trying to do what is best for the team – but they need to calm down a bit and just do the basics well.”
“The conditions were a lot worse than it looked – it was really slippy – so we had to tighten things up a bit. It’s frustrating but what I love about this group is the energy they’ve got and their willingness to learn. In the four years I’ve been involved in the under-20 programme, they are right up there in terms of energy and work-rate. This is their introduction to international rugby – and they’ve learned that really small margins make the difference.”
Hunter-Hill was even more effusive in his analysis, with a broad smile spread across his face as he fielded questions from the media.
“I thought we played great. I thought our kicking game was absolutely brilliant, our set-piece was top notch and there was a lot of stuff we can build on and use to our advantage in the games to come. The sky is the limit for this team – we’ve got tonnes of ability,” said the big lock..
“We got caught out a few times tactically and mentally and paid the price. We felt we had the upper hand but at times we sat off and let them off the hook – especially with that first try.”
“To be 19-13 up against Ireland after 60 minutes is definitely something to be proud of, but with the team that we have we can definitely be pushing for better things. It was great to give a lot of new guys a run out and that experience will go a long way for the rest of the tournament.”
For all this positivity (much of it entirely justified), the stark reality is that this was an avoidable loss at home in the opening match of this year’s Six Nations series. Next up is a trip to Grenoble to take on France – the only team in the championship Scotland under-20 have never beaten – and with Wales at home and England away to come after that, things are not going to get much easier any time soon. Turning potential into reality is going to feel like a bigger and bigger challenge with every defeat. The pressure really is on.
The Scots started strongly and they shrugged off a missed penalty from the mercurial Josh Henderson in the fourth minute to take a well-deserved lead just a few moments later, when good line-out ball provided the platform for powerful centre Cameron Hutchison to collect a flat pass at pace and barge over from five yards out.
Ireland edged their way back into the contest with two penalties from the excellent Johnny McPhillips, but the home side finished the half strongly and Henderson knocked over two penalties of his own, to go with his earlier conversion, which made it 13-6 at the break.
The second of those penalties came off the back of a powerful surge up the middle of the park from loosehead prop George Thornton.
Scotland were slightly unfortunate not to be further ahead at this stage after Darcy Graham capitalised on Irish wing Jordan Lamour’s woeful attempt at collecting a high ball and got to within inches of the line, but the exciting full-back – who did not get as much of the ball in this match as he and his Scotland team-mates would have liked – couldn’t quite get the ball down under serious pressure from some desperate cover defence.
Ireland had struggled to cope with Scotland’s driven lineouts in the first half, but they showed that they are more than capable of dishing out some punishment in this area after the break, twice marching the Scots several yards backwards before visiting hooker Tadgh McElroy exploded off the back of the maul and over the line. McPhillips added the conversion to tie the scores.
If that was an emasculating moment for the Scots forwards then they responded in the best possible fashion with a couple of pulverising scrums (aided by the arrival at half-time of the powerful Fergus Bradbury as replacement loosehead) – to earn the penalty from which Henderson restored his team’s lead. The Glasgow Hawks playmaker added another three points a few moments later when Ireland were guilty of not rolling away at a mall slap-bang in front of the posts.
But the Scots couldn’t keep on the front foot and with McPhillips pulling the strings like a seasoned pro, Ireland worked their way out of trouble and got themselves back on the offensive. There was a sense of inevitability about the game’s decisive score, which came on the back of more than a dozen powerful pick-and-goes, before Fineen Wycherley finally muscled over the line to set up an easy conversion which McPhillips gladly knocked over to edge the visitors into a narrow one point lead.
Henderson had an opportunity to clinch glory for the Scots with four minutes to go when the Irish were penalised – not for the first time – for rolling about on the wrong side of a ruck, but his long range effort floated to the right of the posts.
“Some of our defence was really good, the scrum was really strong, some of our line-out drives were really good – so we just need to dust ourselves down and get ready for France. That will provide a completely different challenge. They’ll be very big and a lot of their guys are back from last year. But this is what the Six nations is all about – building towards the World cup when we play Ireland again so we’ll get a gauge of the progress we’ve made then,” concluded Lineen.
Scotland: D Graham; R Nairn , C Pringle, C Hutchison, R McCann; J Henderson, A Simmers; G Thornton, F Renwick, A Nicol, A Craig, C Hunter-Hill, L Crosbie, M Fagerson, T Dodd. Subs: F Bradbury, H Bain, B Flockhart, C Shiel.
Ireland: J Kelly; J Larmour, G Mullin, C Frawley, C Hogan; J McPhillips, J Stewart; J Conway, T McElroy, P Cooper, F Wycherley, O Dowling, C Gallacher, P Boyle, C Doris. Subs: A Moloney, R Mulvihill, C Connolly, J Regan, M Rea, J Lyons, C Fitzgerald, T O’Brien.
Scotland: Try: Hutchison; Con: Henderson; Pens: Henderson 4.
Ireland: Tries: Lyons, Wycherley; Cons: McPhillips 2; Pens: McPhillips 2.
Scoring Sequence (Scotland First): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 7-6; 10-6; 13-6 (h-t) 13-11; 13-13; 16-13; 19-13; 19-18; 19-20
Man-of-the-Match: Irish stand-off Johnny McPhillips showed he is a class act with a near flawless kicking performance.
Talking Point: Does this Scotland side have the strength in depth to remain competitive throughout a gruelling Six Nations schedule?