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Familiarity breeds contempt for old rivals Ireland and Scotland

‘They straight up just don’t get along’.

Scotland's John Barclay and Peter O'Mahony of Ireland.
Scotland's John Barclay and Peter O'Mahony of Ireland.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IN THE CASE OF Ireland v Scotland, familiarity has certainly managed to breed a sizeable amount of contempt.

Both sets of players are well used to doing battle, coming up against each other not only in the Six Nations each year, but also regularly with their club sides via the Pro14 and European Champions Cup.

Despite being Celtic cousins, meetings between Irish and Scottish sides have tended to produce plenty of ill-feeling via a series of on-pitch incidents, off-pitch setbacks, boardroom bickering and even unfulfilled fixtures.

When the two teams meet in their World Cup Pool A opener in Yokohama on Sunday, it will be the latest instalment on what has developed into a fiercely contested rivalry.

In recent seasons, the most high profile incident has centered around Ireland scum-half Conor Murray. Seeing a key player targeted by an opposition team is nothing new in the sport, but in January 2017, Murray felt that Glasgow Warriors took things to a dangerous new level.

Across the course of an ill-tempered Champions Cup game at Scoutstoun, Murray claimed Glasgow’s players were deliberately trying to injure him by targeting his standing leg while he attempted box-kicks. Murray later explained that he had made the touch judge aware of the issue following an early hit from Glasgow No 8 Josh Strauss, but the lack of action taken infuriated the player as the cynical hits kept coming in a game Muster won 14-12.

munsters-conor-murray-is-injured Conor Murray receives attention in Glasgow in 2017. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“I’m properly pissed off about that. I don’t see any benefit in charging down someone’s standing leg, I only see it as a danger or as a potential to get injured,” Murray said, pointing to similar incidents in recent games between the two sides.

“I don’t think it’s a good tactic. You could put another label on that type of tactic, but they did it to us at Thomond Park, they got our scrum-half Te (Aihe Toma) with it in the league game and they almost got me a couple of times.”

The incident only added fire to a rivalry that had become increasingly heated over the years. 

In 2013, Niko Matawalu was cleared of biting Donnacha O’Callaghan at Scoutstun, while Murray was cleared of elbowing an opponent in the same game.

A month before the Murray incident at Scotstoun, in the first game at Thomond Park following the death of Anthony Foley, Keith Earls had accused Fraser Brown of milking a collision between the two which saw Munster wing red-carded. An infuriated Earls let Brown know all about his displeasure before eventually leaving the pitch. 

By the time the Six Nations meeting between Ireland and Scotland at Murrayfield arrived the following February, tensions were at an all-time high. 

When Ireland’s bus journey from their hotel to the stadium was delayed, Schmidt made his frustration clear, claiming that the Scottish police had brought them a different route to the one used for Friday’s Captain’s Run. As a result, their warm-up window was reduced from 45 minutes to 25 minutes, and a lethargic looking Ireland team were 14-0 down within 20 minutes. They lost the game 27-22.

“We arrived at the stadium 10 or 15 minutes late and we were late for most things in the first half,” a frustrated Schmidt said. “It’s particularly tough to take. We were well off our game and I think the Scottish attack took advantage of that.”


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joe-schmidt-arrives Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt arrives after a delay to Murrayfield. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The tensions between Ireland and Scotland haven’t just been confined to matters on the pitch, either.

Back in 2016 Ireland lost out on the rights to host the 2023 World Cup, with the IRFU’s bid receiving just eight votes, finishing behind both South Africa, and France, who won the rights.

Throughout the bidding process, the IRFU had been confident that they had Scottish Rugby’s support. As it turned out, both Scotland and Wales voted for France, with England lending their support to Ireland.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne was not afraid to express his disappointment with Scotland’s perceived U-turn.

“The only issue we have – we know that Scotland and Wales didn’t vote for us and that made a huge difference,” Browne said.

“As our nearest neighbours, that is a huge disappointment to us. Scotland were pretty consistent in saying they would wait for the evaluation report and that they would go with the bid that produces the most money.”

Those of a certain vintage will also recall the events of 1972, when Scotland refused to travel to Dublin to fulfil their Five Nations fixture.

dick-spring-philip-browne-and-philip-orr Dick Spring, Ireland 2023 Bid Chairman, Philip Browne, IRFU Chief Executive and IRFU President Philip Orr. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With the game scheduled to be played just a few weeks after Bloody Sunday, and the subsequent burning of the British Embassy in Dublin, Scotland felt that it would be unsafe for their players to travel to Ireland, despite assurances from the IRFU that the game could be carried out peacefully.

The decision meant that Ireland only got to complete two of their four fixtures, yet still finished second in the table to Wales. The campaign is still remembered as the Grand Slam that never was, and the point where relations between the Irish and Scottish Unions first soured.

There has been plenty of bite in their meetings ever since. Sunday’s Pool A clash in Yokohama promises to be another highly-charged encounter.

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