In a curtain-raiser to the Barbarian v Scotland game, Ireland Under 21s survived a late come-back to beat their Scottish counterparts by one point, 27-26 in Murrayfield on Saturday.
Under 21 International Friendly
Scotland 26-27 Ireland.
As a curtain-raiser to the main match at Murrayfield on Saturday, this game failed to draw many away from the sun-baked back pitches, but as a warm-up to the forthcoming FIRA World Under-21 Championships in Scotland it was near-perfect.
Scotland were comprehensively thumped 33-9 by Ireland in their final Six Nations match in Dublin, but the young Scots showed great improvement on Saturday and probably should have come away with their first-ever defeat of the Irish.
The coaches were keen to try out different players and they uncovered an intriguing dilemma when Brian Archibald, the long-striding, big-booted full-back, was replaced in the second half and the new fly-half performed well. The problem was without Archibald on the field there was no-one who could bang over that late long-range penalty which would have secured the victory.
“That’s given us a dilemma for the world championships that we didn’t have before,” admitted the under-21s coach Jono Phillips, “but it’s a very positive one to have.
“But, although we’re very disappointed we didn’t win, that was certainly a big improvement since March. In Ireland, we were beaten mentally and physically. We now have a group of players ready to go to battle for us.”
There were eight changes to the starting line-up in March, and the newcomers all made strong cases for inclusion when the FIRA World Championship kicks off next month. The pack performed more cohesively, while the Scots half-backs Brendan McKerchar and Stephen Jones also played well. But it was when Jones was moved to full-back in the second half, and newcomer, Gloucester fly-half Neil Hunter, brought on, Scotland’s revival picked up pace.
Two early Archibald penalties from three attempts had been scant reward for solid Scottish pressure on the Ireland 22 and they were blown away by three Irish tries in the second quarter from Declan Fitzpatrick, a recent Ulster signing, David Gannon – the first two stemming for lightning breaks by another Ulster signing Tommy Bowe – and Glen Telford, with Gareth Steenson adding a penalty and two conversions.
Archibald claimed another penalty before the break but Shane O’Connor scored again for Ireland just eight minutes into the second half. A tactical change by the Scots, where they moved the ball wider before punching forward, paid off with three tries, however, Rob Dewey taking the first two brilliantly and Fergus Thomson finishing the third. Hunter converted two, but couldn’t find an opening in a desperate period of injury-time to slot the match-winner.
Scotland: Tries – Dewey 2, Thomson; Pens – Archibald 3; Cons – Hunter 2.
Ireland: Tries – Fitzpatrick, Steenson, Telford, S O’Connor; Pen – Steenson; Cons – Steenson 2.
Ireland: A Finn; T Bowe, J Hearty, G Telford, P McKenzie; G Steenson, R Shaw; J Wickham, D Fogarty, D Fitzpatrick, D Gannon, S O’Connor, B O’Connor, J Heaslip, D O’Brien.
Replacements: T O’Leary for Shaw 49 mins, B O’Donnell for Telford, O Hennessy for O’Brien both 60 mins, C Geoghegan for Fogarty 62 mins, M Glancy for Steenson, K Doyle for Fitzpatrick, N McComb for S O’Connor, all 68 mins, O’Brien for B O’Connor 70 mins .
Scotland: B Archibald; S Gordon, R Dewey, D Brown, J Houston; S Jones, B McKerchar; A Dickinson, R Ford, C McGrath, I Dryburgh, S Tomes, A Strokosch, D Callam, G Strang.
Replacements; S Corsar for McGrath 40 mins, F Thomson for Ford 46 mins, N Hunter for Archibald 47 mins, C White for Tomes 64 mins, N Cochrane for Strang, C Shaw for Gordon, both 65 mins.
Referee: W Barnes (England).
Report: David Ferguson – The Scotsman.