Ireland’s dream of ending 61 years of Grand Slam hurt remains on the cards as they eked out a scrappy 22-15 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
There wasn’t much to separate these two in-form nations in the end, but Declan Kidney’s men provided sufficient grit and determination to muscle past their opponents with substitute Jamie Heaslip’s try proving the difference.
Scotland had started the stronger as they looked to add to their own improving efforts over the past six months. And with a late switch to the right-hand side just five minutes in, powerful winger Simon Danielli (Wearing his Mizuno Morellia rugby boots) looked set to open the scoring until a stray Irish hand brought him to his knees ten metres from the whitewash.
The early barrage continued for the seemingly nervous away outfit as the hosts started to set up camp downfield with points not too far away as record-breaking referee Jonathan Kaplan spotted a breakdown offence on seven minutes, allowing the metronomic Chris Paterson (wearing his Adidas predator powerswerve rugby boots) to master the testing wind at the first time of asking.
Offences continued to dog the Championship-chasing visitors efforts though, which started to bring a sense that Scotland were increasingly on top in several aspects.
But just as captain Mike Blair looked to press home the advantage with a bouncing kick into the Irish corner, it was a case of ‘nice idea but shame about the execution’ as Luke Fitzgerald ushered the attempt out in-goal.
Ireland subsequently clawed themselves back onto level terms two minutes later with a penalty of their own as their soon-to-be record holder, Ronan O’Gara, slotted one through the posts during a shift in territory.
Having under-performed against England a fortnight ago, the Emerald Isle seemed to be stuck in a similar Dublin rut as David Wallace (wearing his Puma V108 boots) proved the catalyst in gifting Paterson a chance to stretch the gap before the two kickers traded blows.
But one felt that despite their lack of fluency, Ireland would largely be encouraged by their 12-9 deficit after a distinctly average showing up until now.
However, before any long whistle blowing could take place, Ireland were left with hearts in their mouths as the strengthening Thom Evans announced himself on proceedings. The young winger, who has set the tournament alight on several occasions, spotted some space behind the away defence and re-gathered his own kick before Tommy Bowe saved his side with a vital tackle.
Was that to be something for Declan Kidney to use during his half-time team-talk? Well, something seemed to inspire the men in green as Peter Stringer shrugged off an earlier knock to dart through an unexpecting Scottish defence before feeding replacement Heaslip to score the game’s only try.
And with the scores 16-12 in favour of the now dominant travelling side, momentum had definitely changed hands from the first period as Ireland’s forwards took a stranglehold on the match. Enter under-fire fly-half O’Gara, who showed all of his experience to sit back and repel Scotland from the one-score margin with a well-taken drop-goal on 57 minutes.
The gutsy hosts were certainly not done on their home patch though, as a fifth Paterson penalty-goal moved them back within touching distance – a strong finish possibly in the offing at Murrayfield?
But that was to be the Edinburgh full-back’s final meaningful act as Ireland showed Six Nations-winning form to grind out their fourth-straight victory as another three points sets up an intriguing clash against reigning champions Wales next weekend.
Pen: O’Gara 3
Pen: Paterson 4
Scotland: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Simon Danielli, 13 Max Evans,12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Thom Evans, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair (capt), 8 Simon Taylor, 7 John Barclay, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Jason White, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Moray Low, 18 Nathan Hines, 19 Scott Gray, 20 Chris Cusiter, 21 Nick De Luca, 22 Hugo Southwell.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Rory Best, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Tom Court, 18 Mick O’Driscoll, 19 Jamie Heaslip, 20 Tomas O’Leary, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Geordan Murphy.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television match official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)