domingo, febrero 13, 2005

Scotland 13 - Ireland 40

O'Kelly rises to occasion to send the Scots reeling

Eddie Butler at Murrayfield Sunday February 13, 2005The Observer

There is somewhere an ideal way to play a game in the Six Nations, something like 'start well and get better'. Neither side came anywhere near to the perfect match. For Ireland, this was not surprising. They had lost their talismanic centres in the week - captain Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy. Hamstrung in midfield, they were bound to be a little disorganised. Scotland, on the other hand, came to this game fuelled by the injustice of narrow defeat in Paris. It worked, but only for a time. Ireland were off-key, but only for a similar length of time.

If Ireland were hamstrung to begin with, they ended at an easy canter; if Scotland began well, they ended in a bit of a miserable heap. Conscious of the obvious weakness in the Ireland midfield, Scotland threw themselves at it at the earliest opportunity. It was a question of the largest against the slightest, Jason White barging past Ronan O'Gara with a disdainful flick. It was the most striking moment in Scotland's glittering opening period, although on that occasion the drive petered out in the corner. Very little went wrong for the home team. That is not to say that they did not have a few flutters. Following through after a clearance, O'Gara caught Chris Cusiter in the side of the face with a full show of studs, forcing the scrum-half off the field for blood repairs. Moments later Hugo Southwell had a kick charged down as Scotland tried to keep their momentum going. The charge-down was bad enough in itself, but it also carried echoes of the centre's final moment in Paris when a similar incident handed France the game.

On this occasion nothing happened untoward, and Chris Paterson was soon lining up the first kick at goal. Early promise by Scotland. And now they had some points. Ireland during this period were all over the place, unable to win any decent possession and prone to kick what little ball they did receive straight down a Scottish throat. The perils of such uncharacteristic rugby were soon evident. Paterson gathered a kick and found himself confronted by Reggie Corrigan - the Irish prop. Corrigan is an awkward scrummager, but he was in no position to tackle Paterson in full flight. Through went the full-back, supported by Andy Craig. The one centre found another, Southwell having the pace to keep ahead of Shane Horgan. It was all going so sweetly for Scotland, and quite dreadfully for the Irish. And then it all changed. Dan Parks and Paterson kicked out on the full. Tom Smith gave away a penalty for not releasing after dropping to a knee following a tackle, and Stuart Grimes unceremoniously yanked Malcolm O'Kelly down at a line-out. It was the start of a ragged patch for the home team, and it allowed Ireland not only to pull themselves together but to build up a healthy lead. O'Gara punished Smith for the first indiscretion, and after Grimes's pull Ireland kicked themselves down to the corner. From the line-out they set up one of their trusty drives, O'Kelly proving not only the ball-winner with his jump but the try-scorer at the bottom of the heap as well. If the Irish forwards had struggled in the opening quarter, now they were totally dominant.

Another huge drive led to Scotland diving into a ruck. O'Gara kicked the penalty. At this point Scotland needed something inspirational to happen. It might have come in the shape of White, who flattened Kevin Maggs. Unfortunately for the home team, it proved a one-man moment against the Irish pack, who were coming at them in large numbers. First came Anthony Foley from a tap penalty, and right behind the No 8 was big Paul O'Connell. The second-row battered his way through little Parks to give the visitors a beautifully comfortable cushion at half-time.
That cushion became a down-filled pillow for the orthopaedically challenged at the start of the second half. Ireland immediately worked themselves down into a favourite corner, hurting Scotland through the forwards and then releasing Denis Hickie on the opposite side of the field. Just to rub it in, O'Gara converted and a few minutes later added a penalty that gave Ireland a full 20-point lead. Given the way the game had started, this was an almost unbelievable margin. Scotland, of course, still had over half an hour to play. Their old bugbear, failing to keep hold of the ball, was back. They were staring at a quite horrible defeat. Fortunately, they managed to drag themselves off the floor. Stuart Grimes slipped a neat pass to Jon Petrie, who charged over in the corner. To call it a comeback would be to flatter Scotland. In fact, that was the end of their performance. As the replacements trooped on, Ireland took full control. O'Kelly fed prop John Hayes for a try - quite a moment for the heaviest bloke on the pitch. And in the last movement of the game. And in the opening seconds of his Six Nations career Gavin Duffy shot over for the try that kept Ireland on course for all things beautiful in the championship, while condemning Scotland to contemplate a revival nipped in the bud.

MAN OF THE MATCH
Malcolm O'Kelly Not a bad way to overtake Mike Gibson as Ireland's most-capped player. He was to the fore as Ireland recovered from a ragged opening. He also went very high at the line-out. As for his try-scoring pass to John Hayes, it was almost poetry.

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