It was very much a warm up match, this one. Both sides were trying combinations and it was a zippy start, the first Irish penalty being tapped by Isaac Boss a sign of the intent to try things rather than play for territory.
Usually when we see a Scotland team this makeshift it is forced by injury but this one was experimental, aimed at filling out the squad depth. Hugh Blake had a nice first touch and a jinking run looking for the offload – he was ready to play Vern’s style even if the rest of them were still on summer holiday.
The intensity only really increased any time Ireland got close to scoring. Their back moves were fairly unimaginative – Schmidt wouldn’t show his hand at this stage – but the forward power was enough to barrel them over the line.
Scotland’s try when it came was built through two nice offloads, one from Dave Denton (yes Denton) who was involved 3 or 4 times in the move, then quick ball and nice hands from Ruaridh Jackson and Richie Vernon who put Blair Cowan over in the corner.
The scrum continued to be a worry as Ireland bossed them up front but the Scots suddenly looked more comfortable in the Aviva Stadium, Jackson cutting some nice lines at top speed to keep Scotland testing the Irish back three. Horne missed a penalty for the lead, but Scotland were retaining possession nicely under the cosh that is Sean O’ Brien.
Honours even during a half when Scotland conceded 5 penalties in the first 20 minutes against a team ranked 10 places above them was acceptable.
Half time Ireland 7-7 Scotland
Scotland started the second half with the momentum and again found profits in the outside channels. A big Welsh carry gave Pyrgos half an opening and the captain darted under the Irish defenders to pop it onto the line.
Usually we see the props being replaced around this point anyway but Welsh and Grant were both taken off with knocks – Grant worryingly, on the truck to give Cusack his debut and hopefully balance the scrum.
Visser and Vernon were keeping the tempo high but the Scotland attack was that frustrating mix of very good running and very ordinary passing. With half an hour to go Scotland needed to kick on against an Ireland team wobbling slightly – but of course they boasted the likes of Paul O’Connell on the bench.
As you often see with Irish sides they can ramp up the intensity to the level they need to get the result they want, so Ireland went back to their strength – the pack – and worked a maul well for Cronin to dot down. Scotland stayed in the game well though and didn’t lose their heads, only down by 2 points and making ground as the Irish slid off too many tackles.
A Horne penalty snatched the lead on the hour mark until Dave Kearney came off the bench and cut Scotland open. Zebo finished easily to settle Irish nerves at 21-15. Greig Tonks was solid at 10 and had a nice break of his own but it was the old workhorse Sean Lamont who ran back the next ball Ireland kicked. Wary off the offload, he prayed on Irish fears then popped Pete Horne through for the try. With Horne winded, Jackson slotted the conversion and the Scots regained the lead.
Scotland were in the end undone by a piece of magic from Ian Madigan as a pinpoint cross-field kick found Luke Fitzgerald inside the Scotland 22 for a classy score.
From there the Irish went through some maul drills, exposing that area of weakness once again. Ireland had a penalty to take them two scores clear but when it was missed, Scotland pressed again and only in the last two minutes did we see the headless rugby that so often undoes the men in dark blue, a knock on from Blake signalling time.
To go straight from pre-season to International rugby is a big step, but there was much to admire in the attitude and tactical approach of Scotland and despite losing (again), Cotter may well be glass half full after this one.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Jackson had a good game at full back but David Denton carried strongly, tackled hard and looks to have been working on his passing. With form like this he could mount a late challenge for inclusion with Strauss unavailable to play until the very last moment.
Pre-Season Pros and Cons:
- The Glasgow mentality of quietly coming back into the game after a score rather than losing the head with desperate tactics. Overall attitude good.
- Tonks kicking from hand
- Lineout defence
- Gainline breaks, from Vernon, Lamont, Denton, Gilchrist in particular
- Adjusted to Irish dominance at the breakdown to reduce it as the game wore on
- Scrum creaked first half
- Poor discipline first half. A test match would have seen this punished.
- Lineout timing was frequently off on our ball
- Rolling maul defence
- Should have won it