Young wingers Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe (2) both helped themselves to tries at Croke Park on Saturday as Ireland kept their Triple Crown and Six Nations championship hopes alive.
2008 RBS SIX NATIONS: Saturday, February 23
IRELAND 34 SCOTLAND 13, Croke Park
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: David Wallace, Rob Kearney, Marcus Horan, Tommy Bowe 2; Cons: Ronan O’Gara 3; Pen: Ronan O’Gara
Scotland: Try: Simon Webster; Con: Chris Paterson; Pens: Chris Paterson 2
After coming so close in Paris a fortnight ago, it was vital that Ireland got back to winning ways and they did to chalk up Eddie O’Sullivan’s 50th win since he took over as coach in November 2001.
There were some other notable milestones – Paul O’Connell came off the replacements bench to win his 50th cap and winger Rob Kearney scored his first Test try – but the most important matter for Ireland was the win.
With England securing a gritty victory over France, Ireland now reside in second place in the Six Nations table, two points behind an unbeaten Welsh team that will come to Dublin on March 8 looking to collect the Triple Crown.
Certainly that date with the Welsh is shaping up to be Ireland’s defining game of the season.
Should O’Sullivan’s side beat the Dragons for the eighth time in nine meetings stretching back to 2001, they will set up a potential championship decider for the following weekend against England.
Interestingly, England’s current coach Brian Ashton was in charge of Ireland the last time Scotland won in Dublin (back in 1998).
Scotland’s class of 2008 could not be faulted for bravery and sheer work-rate but they failed to trouble the scoreboard during a dominant first quarter and were made to pay the price.
The Scots’ first visit to Croke Park saw them overwhelmed in the end as Ireland, who are beginning to gel once again after a flat run of games, showed a clinical edge in attack and were rewarded with five tries.
Despite a relatively sluggish start and some lineout problems, the men in green carried on the momentum built up by that stirring second half display in Paris and with the pieces of the jigsaw coming together, there now seems to be a better balance about the side.
Deputising for the injured Girvan Dempsey, Geordan Murphy showed his class in a man-of-the-match display.
The Kildare man’s colleagues in the back-three, Kearney and Tommy Bowe, both scored tries and Andrew Trimble is noticeably growing in stature in a makeshift midfield alongside hard-working captain Brian O’Driscoll.
Half-backs Ronan O’Gara and Eoin Reddan did little wrong – indeed O’Gara made the initial thrust forward for Kearney’s try and he also punted an inch-perfect kick across to the right wing for Marcus Horan to score in the opening minute of the second half.
There are further reasons to be cheerful in the Irish pack, with Mick O’Driscoll now challenging his Munster team-mate O’Connell for a starting berth, although the latter might have done enough in his short cameo to make the team for the Welsh game.
The back row trio of Denis Leamy, David Wallace and relative newcomer Jamie Heaslip gets more impressive with each game, with Wallace’s opening try summing up how well they work together.
Another pleasing aspect of this win was the fact that the Irish bench was emptied with Rory Best, in particular, looking the part during his run-out.
But with some issues at the set piece and in other areas, Ireland will not get ahead of themselves.
Beating arguably the two weakest teams in the championship may have gotten them back on track, but the real tests lay ahead against Wales and England.
To the action itself and Scotland started in spirited fashion, owning the ball for virtually the first seven minutes.
Moved to out-half with Dan Parks dropping to the bench, Chris Paterson gave the Scots some added ambition alongside skipper Mike Blair.
The visitors’ pack, particularly their athletic back rowers, carried forward with intent but a penalty conceded by lock Nathan Hines let Ireland off the hook just as Scotland got within striking range.
Frank Hadden’s side had shunned a kickable penalty, yet they were soon back on the attack with centre Andrew Henderson breaking into space before a dropped pass robbed winger Nikki Walker of a first cut at the Irish defence.
Henderson was involved in the Scots’ next attack but Trimble put in a thunderous hit on him and Ireland were able to lift the siege.
The Irish upped the tempo with scrum half Reddan initiated what looked a promising attack, only for Rory Lamont to step in and intercept a pass from the recalled Bowe, who was making his first Six Nations appearance since 2006.
The bulk of the 74,234-strong crowd need not have worried however as Ireland soon sent Wallace in under the posts for their opening try, 22 minutes into the fray.
The score came off a central scrum just metres from the Scottish try line. In a move straight off the training ground, Bowe lined up right behind the scrum.
Both the winger and Reddan peeled away to the right after the feed, Heaslip picked up and ran to the right before popping the ball to his left for Wallace to dash onto it, fend off Kelly Brown and get the touchdown.
O’Gara added the conversion and after Paterson had replied with a long range penalty, Ireland broke into a 14-3 lead thanks to Kearney’s try in the 26th-minute.
Murphy started it off with a superb aerial take, under pressure from Lamont. Reddan found O’Gara who swerved in and out in the 10 channel as he began a thrilling counter attack.
O’Driscoll was fed and he sprung into space, spotting a mismatch in midfield and making 30 metres before sending out a perfectly-weighted looping pass for Kearney to collect and dive over in the left corner.
O’Gara topped off the try with a fantastic conversion from the touchline but Scotland had the final say of the half with Paterson banging over his second penalty.
Hadden’s charges might have been closer than 14-6 at the break. They set up a good attacking position on the right side of the Irish 22. The pressure was certainly on Ireland as the Scottish pack mauled forward and inched closer to the whitewash.
However, frustration got the better of Hines who aimed a punch at the defending Denis Leamy and referee Christophe Berdos, after a consultation with his touch judge, awarded a relieving penalty to Ireland.
Scotland were caught out right after the restart. Barely 30 seconds was on the clock before O’Gara’s cross-field kick was gathered by Horan, who was lurking out on the right after a previous ruck, and touched down by the Munster prop, ala-Shane Horgan versus England last year.
Ireland were finding an extra gear and they went 22-6 ahead when O’Gara planted his first penalty goal of the evening through the posts.
For all their possession and territory in the first half, it took a quick counter attack for the Scots to end their try drought.
53 minutes were on the clock when the visitors scored only their second try in six Test matches – Henderson stood up in the tackle and managed to offload to the supporting Simon Webster who ghosted over from 10 metres out and in behind the posts.
Paterson converted from the right to raise hopes of a Scottish fightback but with the decibel level rising as O’Connell entered for his first appearance in green since the World Cup, Ireland soon regained control.
They pierced the Scottish defence in the 62nd-minute. There was some terrific handling from Murphy and O’Gara, whose reverse pass put Trimble charging into the 22 and he offloaded for his Ulster colleague Bowe to scramble over the line despite the best efforts of the covering Blair.
O’Gara added the extras for a 29-13 score-line and the game petered out with both sides emptying their benches and Scottish replacement lock Jim Hamilton sustaining a bad ankle injury which resulted in him being stretched off.
Prop Euan Murray also sustained a rib injury and with replacement prop Gavin Kerr already on the field for Allan Jacobsen, there were uncontested scrums for the final few minutes.
O’Sullivan gave late run-outs to Shane Horgan, Simon Easterby, Peter Stringer, Tony Buckley and Paddy Wallace.
And it fell to Horgan, who made his debut against the same opposition all of eight years ago, to provide the assist for Ireland’s fifth and final try.
It arrived in the 79th-minute when the Scots were turned over in their 22. Trimble got in to secure possession and with numbers out wide on the right, Horgan’s pacy pass saw Bowe complete his brace – taking his try tally to five in 11 internationals.
TIME LINE: 22 minutes – Ireland try: David Wallace – 5-0; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 7-0; 25 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 7-3; 26 mins – Ireland try: Rob Kearney – 12-3; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 14-3; 32 mins – Scotland penalty: Chris Paterson – 14-6; Half-time – Ireland 14 Scotland 6; 41 mins – Ireland try: Marcus Horan – 19-6; conversion: missed by Ronan O’Gara – 19-6; 50 mins – Ireland penalty: Ronan O’Gara – 22-6; 53 mins – Scotland try: Simon Webster – 22-11; conversion: Chris Paterson – 22-13; 62 mins – Ireland try: Tommy Bowe – 27-13; conversion: Ronan O’Gara – 29-13; 79 mins – Ireland try: Tommy Bowe – 34-13; conversion: missed by Paddy Wallace – 34-13; Full-time – Ireland 34 Scotland 13
IRELAND: Geordan Murphy; Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Andrew Trimble, Rob Kearney; Ronan O’Gara, Eoin Reddan; Marcus Horan, Bernard Jackman, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Rory Best for Jackman (44 mins), Paul O’Connell for M O’Driscoll (55), Simon Easterby for Heaslip, Shane Horgan for B O’Driscoll (both 70), Peter Stringer for Reddan (72), Tony Buckley for Hayes (73), Paddy Wallace for O’Gara (77).
SCOTLAND: Hugo Southwell; Rory Lamont, Simon Webster, Andrew Henderson, Nikki Walker; Chris Paterson, Mike Blair (capt); Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Nathan Hines, Scott MacLeod, Alasdair Strokosch, Allister Hogg, Kelly Brown.
Replacements used: Ross Rennie for Brown (46 mins), Nick De Luca for Walker (62-67, blood sub), Jim Hamilton for Hines (64), Dan Parks for Southwell (67), Fergus Thomson for Ford, De Luca for Henderson (both 70), Gavin Kerr for Jacobsen, Chris Cusiter for Blair (both 72), Ford for Murray (76).
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)