Wandering the streets of Dublin on sunny Saturday afternoon amidst a sea of green shirts, hats and scarves and a pleasing number of kilts there did not seem to be much that would disrupt the confidence evident in the Irish Press. The consensus was (to paraphrase): without wishing to do a disservice to Scotland, we should win the Triple Crown pretty easily ‘cos they are okay but lets face it we’re better (insert bejesus here for comic effect). Some of the fans we spoke to were a little more uncertain, wishing us luck (but not too much) but wary Scotland could still upset the party.
And upset it they did, with the latest in a long line of improving performances in this tournament. Although sadly England got closer score-wise to France on Saturday night, thereby denying us a Grand Slam of moral victories (something we Scots have plenty of), let’s face it this was probably Scotland’s best ever second from last finish. With a bit more concentration against Wales in those agonising final minutes I feel the dominoes would have fallen into place for us in the matches following – the knock-on effect from just that single point against England, magnified – and it could have been a Triple Crown decider in both directions at the weekend.
Although a massive stadium, Croke Park is very steep (the tickets come with vertigo warnings) and it is pretty easy to see what is going on far away, despite a large screen dangling in front of you. So for just about everything apart from the scrums (where you can’t see what is going on even if you are standing in front of them with a whistle in one hand and a yellow card in the other) it was obvious early on that Ireland were looking dangerous with ball at pace, and the carefree way they threw the ball about looked initially like it might be Scotland’s undoing. Then they dropped a few passes, Sexton started bottling his kicks and Best his lineouts and it turned out it might actually be Ireland’s undoing.
Once, a try from a blatantly forward pass might have collapsed Scottish morale, but no, instead they did what you are supposed to – strike back with a well-worked try. After Ireland realised the folly of going in at half time 14-7 down as Parks kept them under the kosh, they tightened the game up. O’ Gara came on to calm things down after a jittery Sexton performance with the boot. Another try by Bowe (which might have liked to go to the TMO), and it was getting back to a case of the St Etiennes as O’ Gara and O’ Connell started moving the Irish forward with more purpose. But still Kaplan (worryingly also the ref in St Etienne) seemed to give us the nod at scrum and lineout time. Scotland still had enough ball, and territory, to win this. But the small pocket of Scots I sat with had seen this before, and were looking with every passing minute for the little fluke, the error, the bad substitution that would screw us out of another deserved victory.
There are some games that you want badly enough, even a little noise is forgiven when you as a fan are so desperate for victory. Against Australia the Scotland fans smelt history and made enough noise to at least intimidate Giteau on his last pressure kick. And so it was here, the Ireland fans so determined that their last chance to see Ireland play rugby at Croker would not end in disappointment that the unthinkable happened: they broke the eerie Thomond Park-style silence that usually greets kickers in Ireland. The amount of time Parks took for his kick probably didn’t help matters.
But Dan Parks knows all about booing, having even suffered it at the hands of his own support before now. So he calmly slotted it over, as for some reason you sensed he might, turning away with a fist pump before the ball had even made it over the bar, and in the little Scottish corners of Croke Park, wild cheering broke out.
There was, undoubtedly, dancing on the streets of Dublin.