Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook
THE STADIUM PA announcer declared this a ‘good game of rugby’ and while it was certainly competitive and kept those in the ground on the edge of their seats until the final whistle, Ireland disappointingly let their standards slip and paid the ultimate penalty.
After the progressive wins, and performances, over Italy and Wales in the last two rounds, Adam Griggs’ side took a backward step here as they were guilty of making a succession of unforced handling errors while their indiscipline proved costly throughout.
Scotland, for their part, were full value for a famous three-point win in Dublin — their first victory of this season’s Six Nations and maiden win over Ireland in 11 championship attempts — as they took full advantage of the hosts’ sloppiness.
Leading 3-0 at the break, Scotland then extended their advantage through centre Hannah Nelson and while Ireland came storming back through the powerful work of their forwards, Chloe Rollie’s intercept try proved crucial.
Ireland dug deep again and gave themselves a lifeline through Paula Fitzpatrick’s close-range score with 11 minutes remaining, but had left themselves with too much to do and there was to be no late rescue mission on this occasion.
Defeat here, Ireland’s second of the campaign, ends any talk of a potential Triple Crown bid when they go to Coventry to face England next Friday, and on the balance of play it probably would have glossed over a poor afternoon and the glaring areas Griggs’ side need to vastly improve on.
The execution of basic skills is one and proved to be their downfall here, with the error count well into the teens by the end of the opening quarter, while when the tough gets going, Ireland’s tendency is to revert to a one-dimensional approach which failed to get them out of jail on this occasion.
It said a lot about how much of a shock this result was by the reaction of the Scotland players and management at full-time, with Ireland slipping to just their third reversal in their last 18 home championship outings.
Ireland started and ended the first half on the front foot, but they never really got going and failed to throw so much as a punch in anger until late in the piece.
Indiscipline was a common thread throughout the opening period as Ireland’s basic skill execution — passing and handling, in particular — left a lot to be desired again and Scotland looked to take full advantage with a combination of quick ball and direct running.
After Lindsay Peat had carried powerfully in midfield and released Sene Naoupu with a smart offload out of the tackle, the centre then linked with Megan Williams on this near side but held on too long to give Scotland a prime attacking platform.
As the pressure on their line mounted, Ireland were penalised for firstly collapsing the Scottish maul and then second row Aoife McDermott blatantly entered the ruck from the side, allowing Nelson open the scoring from in front of the posts.
Scotland were enjoying all the possession and territory. Cliodhna Moloney was straight off her feet, Fitzpatrick failed to roll away and then Katie Fitzhenry deliberately knocked on as the visitors stretched Ireland’s rearguard.
Griggs’ side were given a let off when Nelson pushed her second penalty attempt right of the upright when she ought to have doubled Scotland’s lead, and it wasn’t until the last throes of a scrappy first half that Ireland managed to drag themselves out of defence and ask questions of their own.
Williams’ kick and chase pinned Scotland back inside their own 22 and the outstanding Claire Molloy took player and ball, allowing Fitzpatrick to complete the turnover on the ground. Ireland flooded the ruck, before moving it through the hands with Peat pumping the legs to bring the hosts within five metres.
Briggs spotted space down the near side, but after bursting through the first tackler knocked on when attempting to release Hannah Tyrrell for the line. It summed up a tight, error-strewn half.
Ireland’s frustration was compounded two minutes after the restart when Scotland showed a clinical edge for the first time as they exposed the hosts down this short side after a period of sustained pressure.
Quick ball allowed Lisa Martin hit Nelson at speed and the centre burst through Peat’s attempted tackle to crash over from close range for an 8-0 lead.
Ireland, to their credit, responded well and instantly hit back when Briggs pinged a penalty deep into Scottish territory and the pack did the rest with a powerful driving maul followed by a big shove from a five-metre scrum.
Referee Ian Tempest spotted an infringement and ran under the posts to award the penalty try, although Ciara Griffin appeared to have already grounded as the visitors collapsed the maul.
At this juncture, Ireland’s ambition to move the ball through the hands and out wide had dissolved as they recognised their superiority up front, with the pack keeping it tight around the fringes as Peat and Griffin made meaty pick-and-goes but were both held up on the line.
Scotland held firm for a number of resets on their own line but eventually Tempest lost his patience with their front row and sent prop Megan Kennedy to the bin for collapsing the Irish scrum. Not that it mattered.
Ireland’s one-dimensional approach didn’t pay off this time. Griffin picked from the base of the scrum and in her attempt to spread it wide for Naoupu, threw a floating pass which hung in the air for far too long and Rollie streaked clear.
The Scottish fullback glided past Kim Flood as if she wasn’t there and then had the pace and stamina to get away from Tyrrell and stumble over the line for a length-of-the-pitch intercept try, which was converted by Lana Skeldon for a 15-7 lead.
Having pushed and probed for large periods of the second half at one end, it was a sucker-punch for Ireland and one they never recovered from, despite Fitzpatrick’s try with 11 minutes left on the clock.
Crucially, with Briggs off the field, fullback Flood assumed kicking duties and snatched at the conversion attempt, sending it wide when it was harder to miss to leave Scotland with a three-point buffer.
The visitors showed great resolve to see the game out and secure a famous victory, leaving Ireland with plenty to ponder and work on heading into next week.
Ireland scorers:Tries: Penalty try, Paula Fitzpatrick
Conversions: Kim Flood [0 from 1]Scotland scorers:Tries: Helen Nelson, Chloe Rollie
Penalties: Helen Nelson [1 from 2]
Conversions: Helen Nelson [0 from 1], Lana Skeldon [1 from 1]
IRELAND: 15. Kim Flood, 14. Megan Williams (Louise Galvin 60’), 13. Katie Fitzhenry, 12. Sene Naoupu, 11. Hannah Tyrrell, 10. Niamh Briggs (Michelle Claffey 67’), 9. Ailsa Hughes (Nicole Cronin 65’); 1. Lindsay Peat (Laura Feely 73’), 2. Cliodhna Moloney, 3. Leah Lyons, 4. Aoife McDermott, 5. Orla Fitzsimons (Ashleigh Baxter 45’), 6. Ciara Griffin (captain), 7. Claire Molloy, 8. Paula Fitzpatrick.
Replacements not used: 16. Ciara O’Connor, 18. Fiona Reidy, 20. Edel McMahon.
SCOTLAND: 15. Chloe Rollie, 14. Liz Musgrove, 13. Lisa Thomson, 12. Helen Nelson, 11. Hannah Smith, 10. Lisa Martin (captain), 9. Sarah Law (Jenny Maxwell 40’); 1. Siobhan McMillan (Lindsey Smith 52’), 2. Lana Skeldon, 3. Megan Kennedy (Jodie Rettie 67’), 4. Emma Wassell, 5. Deborah McCormack, 6. Sarah Bonar (Louise McMillan 40’), 7. Rachel Malcolm (Siobhan Cattigan 74’), 8. Jade Konkel.
Replacements not used: 17. Katie Dougan, 22. Lauren Harris, 23. Rhona Lloyd.
Referee: Ian Tempest (RFU).