A battling performance from Scotland forced Eddie O’Sullivan’s Ireland side to dig deep as their 19-18 Triple Crown-clinching win at Murrayfield on Saturday was far from the forgone conclusion that many observers had predicted.
RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, March 10
SCOTLAND 18 IRELAND 19, Murrayfield (Att: 67,800)
Scorers: Scotland: Pens: Chris Paterson 6
Ireland: Try: Ronan O’Gara; Con: O’Gara; Pens: O’Gara 4
Ronan O’Gara took his Irish points scoring record to 726 as he bagged all of Ireland’s points in Saturday’s hard-fought win over Scotland – the seventh straight success against the Scots since Eddie O’Sullivan was appointed coach in November 2001.
The men in green, hunting for their third Triple Crown in four years, were almost left red faced when Chris Paterson landed three straight penalties to nudge Scotland into an 18-13 lead with only fifteen minutes remaining.
But Ireland regrouped well, winning three kickable penalty chances – two of which O’Gara slotted through the uprights – to claim their third win of the 2007 championship and retain the Triple Crown they won in far more dramatic fashion at Twickneham twelve months ago.
In a game which reminded one of the Celtic clashes of yore, both sides scrapped and scrapped and despite a stranglehold on possession and territory in the opening half, Ireland failed to make use of their try-scoring chances – Frank Hadden’s hosts were tackling everything in sight.
Ireland’s total of passes was up in the 130s by half-time, more than double that of the Scots, but the stunningly accurate place-kicking of Paterson – he has now hit 20 successful kicks in a row in the championship, combined with a high tackle count, kept the underdogs in the hunt.
Crucially, O’Gara struck for his try just before the break, linking in a smart breakaway move with Gordon D’Arcy and Simon Easterby, and that gave the Irish the platform to see out the win, albeit with somewhat of a frantic finish.
Upwards of 30,000 Irish supporters managed to find tickets for the countries’ 120th meeting – a statistic that is tantamount to the team’s recent successes – and making their best start of the championship, Brian O’Driscoll and company looked ready to carve open the hosts’ defence in the opening quarter.
Barnstorming breaks by Paul O’Connell and Gordon D’Arcy saw Ireland stride deep into the Scottish half, and a repeat of the five-try 40-13 win in Edinburgh two years ago looked on the cards.
But the scores never materialised despite Ireland’s dominance – the most notable chance that was lost saw Girvan Dempsey lose the ball forward as the Irish looked to have a two-to-one overlap on the left and with Denis Hickie on his team-mate’s shoulder.
O’Gara had punished Kelly Brown for a ruck infringement with his first penalty of the afternoon in the ninth-minute, before Paterson replied with the first of his six penalty successes.
Scottish winger Sean Lamont helped raise the tempo and draw some noise from what had been an eerily quiet crowd.
He ran back a kick from Shane Horgan and offloaded in perfect time for Paterson who looked to be in the clear as he hared towards the Irish 22, but RBS man of the match Hickie retrieved the situation superbly, making up the ground Paterson, hauling him down and competing for the ball legitimately at the subsequent ruck to win his side a penalty.
Tempers flared when Paterson hit O’Gara with a late tackle and skipper O’Driscoll waded in to remonstrate with his Scottish counterpart, only to be penalised himself.
Just moments later though, Ireland struck for the only try of the game. After the embarrassment of the charge down and two interceptions which led to Italy’s three tries at Murrayfield two weeks ago, Dan Parks gallingly had a kick blocked down by O’Gara and the Irish out-half raced up to the Scottish 22 before D’Arcy and Easterby exchanged passes and sent O’Gara in under the posts.
The conversion was added for 10-3 but Scotland had the better of the remainder of the first half with Paterson kicking two penalties to a single effort from O’Gara as the hosts were left trailing by 13-9 at the interval.
Not for the first time, Scotland’s Perpignan-based lock Nathan Hines was pinged for not rolling away from a ruck, having tackled Denis Leamy, and referee Dave Pearson reached for his yellow card.
With the second half only two minutes’ old, surely now Ireland could put their Celtic cousins to the sword? But the points never came and credit to Hadden’s men, they managed to bag three points without conceding any while they were down to 14 men.
Ireland did have their chances – sent into space on an O’Driscoll-inspired attack, Hickie would have scored in the left corner but for a strong tackle from the recovering Sean Lamont who shunted the Leinster winger into touch just before he grounded the ball.
O’Connell was ruled to have come in at the side of a ruck on 52 minutes and Paterson dinked over the penalty to reduce the arrears to a single point.
Scotland managed to go in front for the first time when another infringement from the Irish pack resulted in Paterson punishing them with a penalty success.
The Edinburgh player obliged again, four minutes later, to hand his side an 18-13 advantage and Ireland were in danger of losing their grip on the Triple Crown and blowing any outside chance they have of lifting the title.
Playing with a lot more focus and urgency, Ireland upped the ante for the closing stages. O’Gara pinged over his third penalty after Allan Jacobsen had infringed.
A Scottish offside gave O’Gara the ideal chance to send Ireland back into the lead, with ten minutes remaining, and the Munster man made no mistake with what proved to be the match-winning kick.
He did fail with a lengthy penalty from out towards the left touchline as Ireland sought some cushion in a frantic final few minutes.
However, the closing stages and after-match celebrations were marred somewhat when O’Gara lost consciousness for a time after a Scottish player had allegedly attempted to choke Ireland’s number 10 after he had taken the ball into contact.
Although admitting that a player had “tried to choke” O’Gara and “had his arm around his neck, cutting off his air supply,” O’Sullivan said afterwards that a citing is unlikely to take place.
“It will be very difficult to take it further because there is no evidence on the television and when there is no evidence on the television unless the guy involved puts up his hand, nothing is going to happen,” he said.
The Scottish Rugby Union released a short statement, denying that the incident had taken place. “We refute any allegations of foul play at the end of the game,” it read.
Whatever the case, Ireland, having collected their country’s ninth Triple Crown, have another bruising encounter to consider against Italy in Rome next Saturday (kick-off 1.30pm Irish time) – the team and replacements for which will be confirmed in Killiney on Tuesday.
9 minutes – Ireland penalty: Ronan O’Gara – 0-3
17 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 3-3
30 mins – Ireland try: Ronan O’Gara – 3-8; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 3-10
36 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 6-10
38 mins – Ireland penalty: Ronan O’Gara – 6-13
40+1 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 9-13
Half-Time – Scotland 9 Ireland 13
42 mins – Scotland Sin-Binning: Nathan Hines
51 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 12-13
61 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 15-13
65 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 18-13
68 mins – Ireland penalty: Ronan O’Gara – 18-16
70 mins – Ireland penalty: Ronan O’Gara – 18-19
76 mins – Ireland penalty: missed by Ronan O’Gara – 18-19
Full-Time – Scotland 18 Ireland 19
SCOTLAND: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh); Sean Lamont (Northampton Saints), Marcus Di Rollo (Edinburgh), Rob Dewey (Edinburgh), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh) (capt); Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Cusiter (Border Reivers); Gavin Kerr (Border Reivers), Dougie Hall (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Nathan Hines (Perpignan), Scott Murray (Edinburgh), Simon Taylor (Edinburgh), Kelly Brown (Border Reivers), David Callam (Edinburgh).
Replacements used: Rory Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) for Southwell (half-time), Allister Hogg (Edinburgh) for Callam (54 mins), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh) for Kerr (61), Ross Ford (Border Reivers) for Hall (62), Andrew Henderson (Glasgow Warriors) for Di Rollo (67), Rory Lawson (Gloucester) for Cusiter (68), Jim Hamilton (Leicester Tigers) for Murray (78).
IRELAND: Girvan Dempsey (Terenure College/Leinster); Shane Horgan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Brian O’Driscoll (Blackrock College/Leinster) (capt), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Denis Hickie (St. Mary’s College/Leinster); Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster); Simon Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Rory Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), John Hayes (Bruff/Munster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster), Simon Easterby (Llanelli), David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster), Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster).
Replacements used: Jerry Flannery (Shannon/Munster) for R Best (61 mins), Neil Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Easterby (68). Not used: Bryan Young (Ballymena/Ulster), Mick O’Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster), Eoin Reddan (Wasps), Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster), Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster).
IrishRugby.ie man of the match: Gordon D’Arcy (Ireland)
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)