OFF TO ENGLAND with pep in most steps but with a few squad members doing their best to mask hobbles, limps and master steep stairways.
Declan Kidney will call on his battered squad to give one more effort against England on St Patrick’s Day but the task looks all the more manageable after a solid win over the Scots. After 10 minutes, the situation looked niggly at best as Scotland led 6-0, and Rob Kearney (kick and claim) and Tommy Bowe (interception) narrowly missed out on repeat heroics from the French draw.
However, a move plotted on the Ulster training ground was replicated with some Munster protagonists, Donncha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony, and Ireland took a lead they would not relinquish. With the Six Nations championship a distant memory for the Scots and a ‘could have been, should have been’ for the Irish, both sides, in the parlance of our times, went for it.
A consultation with Rory Best for try number one and a quick decision for Tommy Bowe’s near miss – Jonny Sexton must be applauded for his eagerness to push for tries. Keith Earls looked dangerous at outside centre and Eoin Reddan was sharp to score a vital try.
Richie Gray did his reputation no harm but Scotland’s other high hopes – Stuart Hogg and David Denton – were restricted to merely average performances. The shuddering injury to Lee Jones, when he collided with Andrew Trimble, stopped the second-half clock for more than five minutes. Nonetheless, the second-half was slow going and pock-marked with scrums, re-set scrums and forward passes.
Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris said afterward that he was glad that the team was able to finish the match with some energy in reserve but remarked that the match felt like it lasted for three hours. The second-half lull should not take away from a vocal first-half performance of a near-forgotten boon to the Irish team – the crowd.
More early evening kick-offs and we could soon have Lansdowne Road back as a daunting place to visit.
The post-match talk in the Scottish camp revolved around the decision not to press for a penalty try, rather than take a Laidlaw penalty, late in the first half. Mike Ross and Donnacha O’Callaghan both blipped the referee’s radar but Scotland opted to take the points rather than press home their advantage.
Coach Andy Robinson said afterwards that the decision came on-field but refused to criticise his decision makers. Conversely, by washing his hands of the ill-judged call, Robinson left his players to pick up the pieces.
For Declan Kidney it was a pleasing outing and the chance to praise the squad members that finally got their big night out in the floodlights. Kidney revealed that Sean O’Brien should be fit for next week’s match in Twickenham so O’Mahony may well find himself on the bench again. Donncha Ryan, declared the official man of the match, was not flawless but called the line-outs well and made significantly more ground than O’Callaghan.
All told, there are plenty of reasons to go into the March 17 match against England and look to make it another St Patrick’s Day to remember.