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Ireland clinched their second World Cup warm-up victory in as many weeks in a hard fought contest against a daring Scotland. The Irish showed great determination coming from behind on three separate occasions with a Luke Fitzgerald wonder score being the only thing separating the teams in a tight Dublin encounter.
Not much was expected from a Scottish side that haven’t had much to cheer about as of late and who had the daunting challenge of facing an Irish team that are oozing confidence and playing some world-class rugby. After all, last time out the Scots were victims of a crushing 40-10 defeat at the hands of the dominant Irish. Scotland clearly hadn’t read the script for this encounter as the expectant Irish crowd didn’t get a rerun of March’s demolition derby.
The first 20 minutes was a very scrappy stop-start affair thanks to a number of handling errors as both sides tried to get a grip on the game. Scotland held strong in defence up against an oncoming barrage of attack after attack. As the Irish built up some territory and possession off the back of strong set piece play, the cracks started to form in the Scotland line resulting in Chris Henry crashing over on the 14 minute mark for the first points of the day after a well-worked maul, 7-0 Ireland.
Vern Cotter’s men were far from out of the game though, as a quick response from the Scotland pack saw them surge into the Irish half with some notably strong carrying from David Denton. The momentum was with the Scots in their first really promising attack of the match. The good work of the forwards was capitalised on with some lovely handing through the backs which was finished off by Blair Cowan touching down in the corner. This nicely rounded off some prolonged period of pressure. The scores stayed level into half time, 7-7.
Both sides were evidently keen to go for tries which made for an entertaining and close contest. Ireland turned down a bundle of kickable penalties that would’ve extended the lead in the first half and continued to do so in the second. Experimenting was the aim of the day as the fans were treated to an expansive style of play that is often lacking from the Ireland-Scotland fixture.
The first half told the story of two teams that were experimenting with their squads, in an error-filled and cagey affair. The second half on the other hand was the complete opposite and really showed off the damage the sides could do. The tensest finish to a World Cup warm-up we had seen for many a year followed as an exhibition of quality rugby unfolded. Six tries and 36 points were all packed into 40 minutes of beautiful free-flowing rugby – not bad for a ‘friendly’.
Pyrgos showed some quick and instinctive thinking in the culmination of some great forward play to sneak over for Scotland’s second try just after the break, 12-7. The game swung back and forth with both teams struggling to race ahead with it. Cronin responded with yet another Irish set piece try off the line-out to put the Irish back into the lead, 14-12. Irish ill-discipline gave the advantage back to the Scots as Peter Horne slotted a penalty to reclaim the lead, 14-15. Simon Zebo promptly followed as Ian Madigan showed some expert handling and footwork to provide the space for Zebo to waltz over the line for Ireland’s third try of the day, 21-15. The Scottish spirits were not dampened as Lamont found a gap in the defence and put Peter Horne in for a well-taken try to yet again retake the lead, 22-21. However, the best score of the day was left to the very end when a pinpoint cross kick by Madigan put in a jubilant Luke Fitzgerald who didn’t even have to break stride to score their fourth of the day. The Irish held off a brief onslaught from the Scots on the 80 minute mark to seal the win and march on to next weekend to face Wales. Scotland have an opportunity to bounce back against Italy this Saturday. Final score, 28-22.
The Scots can be proud of their performance especially considering their results in 2015 thus far. A lot of promise from some new names in the Scotland squad like the unproven Hugh Blake, some stand out work from the backrow and Ruaridh Jackson in at full back, and some entertaining fast-paced rugby with some well-worked tries to match. The only blemishes to speak of is they were slow setting up the defensive line and the loss of Ryan Grant to an ankle injury midway through the second half. Nonetheless, it is a world away from the rugby Scotland were playing under Andy Robinson and Scotland are always improving under Cotter. The Kiwi’s contributions to the Scotland’s improvement are irrefutable. To be so competitive against the 2nd best team in the world is noteworthy. Scotland are playing a whole lot better than the 12th best team in the world label would suggest. A few unexpected setbacks and opportunities that go missed have meant that Scotland are still without a win in 2015 despite their clear improvement. It is frustrating to see such progress go unrewarded. The time has come for Scotland to capitalise one their recent good form and notch up their first win of the year irrespective of how they play on the field. Scotland must learn to make the most of opportunities that present themselves if they are to win matches. Italy this Saturday is an opportunity to gain some momentum going into the remaining warm-up matches and carry it on through to the World Cup.
Ireland off the back of their convincing victory in Cardiff a week prior could not replicate the same sort of heroics in their showing against an experimental Scotland side, but they’ll be happy enough. Some great performances from Zebo who was clinical as ever in attack, O’Brien who was a workhorse at the breakdown, and Madigan who looked more than comfortable in the number 10 jersey. However, they didn’t have it all their way – Scotland were unexpectedly Ireland’s toughest challenge so far this summer and one that Ireland will be thankful for. With so much momentum going into the World Cup, there is always a risk of complacency to seep into a squad that radiates confidence. Scotland proved to be the tough test that wasn’t exactly a wake-up call, but something to keep them in check. Succeeding in a World Cup takes a lot of hard graft and Ireland’s group is by no means a walk through the park; Joe Schmidt will be thankful for the stern opposition that the Scots provided. There were glimpses of weakness throughout the game, a few ball retention issues, breakdown management scenarios, and some sloppy defending could cost them dearly on the grand stage. However, a win is a win and the Irish will be more than pleased to continue their winning streak on into their second Welsh encounter of the warm-ups.
See the full match highlights here.